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Staff file photo / Janet Hinds is led into a courtroom for a preliminary hearing before Judge Alex McVeagh at the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Courts Building on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Jurors found Hinds guilty Saturday morning of vehicular homicide by intoxication.

A jury deliberated at the Hamilton County Courthouse for nearly 15 hours before finding Janet Hinds guilty of vehicular homicide by intoxication on Saturday in the 2019 hit-and-run death of Chattanooga police officer Nicholas Galinger.

The jury also found Hinds guilty of reckless driving, leaving the scene of a crime, failure to report an accident, speeding, failing to exercise due care, failure to maintain lane and driving under the influence. Hinds was found not guilty of failure to render aid and not guilty of violation of a traffic control device.

Vehicular homicide by intoxication is the only charge Hinds faced that comes with mandatory prison time.

The six-day trial, held before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole, began Monday.

Hinds was found guilty of hitting and killing 38-year-old Chattanooga Police Department officer Nicholas Galinger with her car on Feb. 23, 2019, while he was inspecting a manhole cover that had water flowing from it in the 2900 block of Hamill Road just after 11 p.m. Hinds fled the scene.

Prosecution attorney Cameron Williams told the jury that the severity of the accident was "incredible" during closing arguments on Thursday. He said Galinger was launched over the roof of Hinds' vehicle and thrown 160 feet, something Chattanooga police officer Joe Warren, the lead investigator in the case and a crash reconstruction expert, testified he typically only sees when pedestrians are hit on an interstate, where speeds are higher.

In his testimony on Wednesday, medical examiner Dr. Stephen Cogswell also said Galinger's injuries led him to believe Hinds was traveling faster than 35 mph. Cogswell said the injuries indicate Galinger hit the windshield face-first and were consistent with those of a pedestrian hit by a car going 45 to 55 mph.

Photos of the windshield of Hinds' car shown at trial revealed it had been shattered with a large hole in it. A shirt with a piece of glass on it was collected from a laundry basket at Hinds' home, according to Jerry McElroy, a crime scene investigator with the Chattanooga Police Department. Kristen Booker, another crime scene investigator with the department, said she observed black scuff marks on the hood of Hinds' vehicle and several hairs in the windshield.

Inside the car, Booker observed a "fairly large piece of possible tissue" on the steering column and took a swab of possible blood found on the side of the odometer. After spraying BlueStar, a liquid chemical used to detect blood that's not visible to the naked eye, inside the vehicle, a faint reaction was observed near the odometer and under the broken glass from the windshield.

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Contributed Photo Officer Nicholas Galinger

All of this, Williams said, proved the recklessness of Hinds' actions. He said that even though Hinds did not take a field sobriety test or a blood test to prove intoxication at the time of the accident, her leaving the scene was evidence of impairment.

"We know that his head was stuck in the windshield because his hair is sitting there," Williams said. "How do you not see a piece of a man's scalp on your steering column?"

Video taken at the Ringgold, Georgia, restaurant Farm to Fork from 7-10:30 p.m. the night of the accident shows Hinds drinking 76 ounces of beer and a lemon drop vodka shot before getting behind the wheel.

Mike Lytle, assistant director of the forensic services division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, used a method called retrograde extrapolation to estimate Hinds' blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was between .14-.18%.

The legal limit in Georgia and Tennessee is .08%.

"If you get into an accident that does the damage that happened to her vehicle, you stop," Williams said. "You don't drive 5 miles with your car looking like that."

Defense attorney Ben McGowan argued that the weight of 150 pounds used in Lytle's calculation for Hinds was inaccurate, as her weight taken during her intake screening after turning herself in Feb. 25 was 168 pounds. McGowan also argued that other factors used in the equation were not necessarily true of Hinds.

According to McGowan's calculations using Hinds' weight of 168.8, the estimate of her alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been .04-.08.% — at or under the legal limit.

Defense witness Traci Phillips, a longtime friend of Hinds and mother of Hinds' daughter-in-law, Melissa Hinds, was the last person to see Janet Hinds before she left Farm to Fork on the night of the crash, and said Hinds did not appear drunk at that time.

Overall, McGowan condemned the prosecution's case as "tenuous, and so weak in its regards because of who the victim is." He argued that Hinds was being made a scapegoat for the failures of other entities and said the case was only brought about because of "the status" of Galinger as a police officer.

"Janet Hinds will be the scapegoat for the sins of the public works department, and the sins of the police department, and they want to throw her into the abyss," McGowan said Thursday. "This is the perfect storm of misfortune."

District Attorney Neal Pinkston said the allegations of bias were untrue and that the case would have been brought forward the same way regardless of who the victim was, as long as the facts were all the same.

In his closing argument, Pinkston said Galinger "had every right to be in the roadway" as part of his work, while Hinds should not have been out drinking and driving.

A pre-sentence investigation report has been ordered, and Hinds is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, Nov. 1, at 9 a.m. in Hamilton County. Hinds was taken into temporary custody on Saturday but will be released on bond until the hearing takes place as soon as bonds are confirmed, according to Judge Poole.

Addressing the jury on Saturday, Poole thanked them for their hard work on the case, calling it "tough on all sides."

"Thank you for being here," he said.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

 

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