An attorney told a Circuit Court jury on Wednesday morning that $25 million sounds like a large amount, but it is a reasonable verdict for the family of 19-year-old Hannah Barnes, who died along with Michael Hennen on a railroad track at McDonald Farm in Sale Creek.
Attorney John Mark Griffin also said Ms. Barnes, though she was underage, was furnished alcohol at Hennen's Restaurant, where she was a server.
But the defense said it cannot be proven that any alcohol that may have been consumed at Hennen's contributed to the pair deciding to lie down on the tracks on the early morning of Aug. 22, 2011.
Attorney Al Henry said, "There's been a lot of speculation and a lot of accusations, but it's years later and we still don't know why they were on the railroad track. No one knows why they were there or how much alcohol they had to drink."
He said the decision to lie down on the track "was a mistake on the part of Hannah and was a mistake on the part of Michael."
He said, "We don't want to be critical, but we have no choice" but to bring out factors about Hannah's prior behavior. He said when she was 16 years old she "was drinking at her mother's third wedding." The suit was brought by her mother, Lisa Barnes, and her siblings.
Attorney Henry said the reason that can be proven is "she put pictures of it on Facebook." He said Lisa Barnes made a Facebook comment on a photo of Hannah drinking beer at the wedding, writing "Love it."
He said Hannah, in her wallet, had two different driver's licenses, including one that showed her to be 21 years old.
Attorney Griffin said after the case was thoroughly investigated the defense decided to drop the parents of Michael Hennen, Tim and Corinne McDonald Hennen, as defendants. He said there was a party attended by the couple prior to the fatal incident, but he said there was no proof that the Hennen parents supplied any drinks to Hannah and Michael.
He said a key piece of evidence - a video showing Hannah and Michael inside the restaurant prior to going to McDonald Farm - was not preserved. "If we had that video, it would have shown a lot," he said.
Attorney Griffin said as far as her family is concerned "Hannah is forever 19."
He said the value of her future earnings in her chosen profession would be outlined to the jury by veteran UTC economics professor Dr. Bruce Hutchinson.
Attorney Griffin claimed that there will be proof that Hennen's had allowed underage drinkers previously.
Attorney Henry called the case "a tragedy for both families."
He said the fact that they went to the farm at Sale Creek was "a spur of the moment thing." He said Hannah had planned to go out that night with her boyfriend, Cole Adams, but he was too tired. He said it was then decided that she and Michael, who was described as an employee but not a manager at Hennen's, would go for an early morning swim.
The jury was told that there is video shown of the couple during stops at Walmart and at a Kangaroo convenience store. They bought a swimsuit for Hannah and a beach ball.
Attorney Henry said Hannah sent a text to her mother at 3 a.m. telling her where she was going.
He said there were two Coors beer cans by the railroad tracks, but "they did not come from Hennen's."
He said the blood alcohol levels used by the plaintiffs would be disputed. He said there were no autopsies performed because the medical examiner's office was trying to cut costs at the time.
Attorney Henry said a key factor was that Hannah and Michael had been up for a lengthy period - including 21 hours for Hannah.
Chris Chambers, a recently retired criminal investigator with the sheriff's office, said he traced the steps taken by Hannah and Michael in trying to make sure that they were not under duress and that this was not a “criminal episode.” He said he got permission from Tim Hennen to get credit card information from the bank on Michael’s credit card. That is how he retraced their steps and determined a timeline.
The surveillance videos showed where they were from the time they left Hennan’s at 3:23 a.m. The first stop was the Signal Mountain Walmart. They arrived there at 3:35 a.m. They left that parking lot at 3:48 a.m. and drove 22 miles to a Kangaroo station on Highway 27/ Dayton Pike, arriving there at 4:12 a.m.
The video at Walmart showed them parking, entering, and shopping for a beach ball and swim suit for Hannah. They were smiling, bouncing and dribbling the ball on the way out. Mr. Chambers was asked, with his experience, if it appeared that they were intoxicated. He said from the video it appears that they were not, and nothing showed any concern that they were impaired. But, he added that he could not tell professionally unless he could see a test.
The video from Kangaroo showed the car arriving, parking and Michael coming in the store and buying two bottles of water, gummy bears and cigarettes. Mr. Chambers said with all his years of experience that video also showed nothing to make him think Michael was intoxicated.
He said they did not buy alcohol at either stop.
Three or four days after the accident, Mr. Chambers said he went to his friend Mike Mathis who worked at Hennens and asked if they had a surveillance system and, if so, for a copy of the video the night of the incident. He said he asked Mr. Mathis because he did not want to bother Mr. Hennen who was burying his son. By that time, he said the security system they use had over-written the video taken that night. It automatically over-writes every 72 hours, he was told.
He said he asked for that video in order to see exactly when they left, if there was any criminal activity, and if they were filmed consuming any alcohol there.
When asked by the defense attorney if there had been any problems with cooperation, he said there had been no problems whatsoever with the Hennen family and restaurant. He said they were as interested in finding out what happened as was the Barnes family.
When he was asked if lacking that video had affected his conclusion, he answered that he is a criminal investigator and his goal is to find consistent findings with the medical examiner. The videos that they did have were consistent and so he ruled it an accidental death - nothing criminal.
After leaving the Kangaroo at 4:15, the fatal incident happened around 6 a.m.
Mr. Chambers said the two Coors Light beer cans were found in the grass. The jury was allowed to pass questions to the judge, and one of those asked was if the cans had been tested for DNA. The answer was that they had not.
Mr. Chambers said in his opinion he thought that it would take more than one beer to get the levels that the alcohol blood tests showed.
The toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office was negative for both, except for alcohol that was .07 for Hanna and .086 for Michael. By law, driving under the influence is at .08. The blood samples were taken after the day of the accident, Aug. 22. The lab received and did tests on Aug. 26 and results were reported on Sept. 14.
Inside Michael's car the investigators photographed three Styrofoam cups - two in front and one in the back seat - and several cans of Skoal. The beach ball and bathing suit were still in the back seat.
A photo of the railroad crossing was introduced and the jury was told it is a private crossing that is not maintained by the railroad. It showed the stop sign and RR crossing sign. It is paved between the rails where it crosses the road.
Michael’s IPhone was found and the defense attorneys had requested that text messages to everyone except Hannah not be allowed. They showed a picture of Hannah that Michael had taken with the phone at 1:30 a.m.
Mr. Chambers said Hannah’s phone was found and released to the Chattanooga Police Department for examination. He said he had no information about anything being deleted from the phone. That phone along with Hannah’s wallet was returned to Lisa Barnes on Oct. 11, 2011. The text messages from the phone were not recovered.
Mr. Chambers said authorities initially had difficulty identifying who was in the accident because investigators found Hannah’s wallet and in it were the two driver's licenses. One was for Lisa Barnes (under 21) and another one with the name Morgan Kinsey (over 21), the witness said.
Mr. Chambers said he did not actually see text messages between the mother and daughter, but was told about them by Lisa. He said she told him that between Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 she had texted with Hannah early in the morning and asked if she was OK. Lisa said she told her "don’t do anything wrong and don’t wake me up when you come in." The last exchange was at 2:59 a.m. when Hannah said she was OK.
Asked if Hannah said she was going to get food in any of the text exchanges, he said, No.
Mr. Chambers said he had had a hard time getting Lisa’s phone number the day of the accident and had called her friend, Sue Markley, to get it. Once he had gotten the number and called Lisa, at first she did not answer the phone. She did not get the message about Hannah until about 1 in the afternoon.
The deposition of expert witness Dr. William Fraizer, who often treats patients with the sleep disorder Hypersomnia, was read to the jury.
He said he had been given documents concerning Hannah Barnes, and statements from witnesses along with the toxicology reports from both Michael and Hannah to determine his opinion.
He determined that Hannah had been awake 19 hours. She had told a co-worker that night that she was tired. She had alcohol. He said those things contributed to her falling asleep on the railroad tracks.
He said alcohol is a powerful depressant making it likely why she fell asleep. The time of the day also affects sleep patterns, he said. The highest tendency to sleep is between 3 and 6 a.m., he stated.
Sleep deprivation (considered to be awake for at least 16 hours) affects the ability to focus and makes a person more likely to fall asleep unintentionally, Dr. Fraizer said.
He said since Hannah had been awake so long, the ability to wake up was decreased despite stimuli (such as a train whistle). He said she would be disoriented upon wakening, affecting the ability to make good decisions.
His conclusion was that alcohol consumption causes same symptoms as being awake a long time so the combined effect was falling asleep unintentionally.