Sister Of Mother Of Hannah Barnes Testifies For Hennens; Says Bringing Lawsuit "Was Absolutely Dead Wrong"

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The sister of the mother of Hannah Barnes testified Thursday for the Hennen family, saying it was "absolutely dead wrong" for Lisa Barnes to file a $25 million lawsuit.

Rhonda Strauss, of Tallahassee, Fla., said when she found that the lawsuit was filed, she contacted the attorney for the Hennens, Al Henry.

She provided him with Facebook photos that were posted by Hannah Barnes, showing her at her mother's apartment on New Year's Eve 2010 holding some type of drink in a Koozie. She was 16 at the time. 

They were shown to jurors in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas. The trial recessed early on Thursday afternoon when the plaintiff's side ran out of witnesses. It will resume Friday morning.

The lawsuit blames Hennen's Restaurant for allowing the 19-year-old Ms. Barnes to drink along with Michael Hennen at the downtown restaurant after closing. They were found dead on railroad tracks at McDonald Farm at Sale Creek several hours later on Aug. 22, 2011.

Ms. Strauss said she did not have a lot of contact with Hannah, but she said she spoke with her one Thanksgiving and she told her she "felt stuck. She wanted to go to school somewhere - away from Chattanooga and away from her mother."

She said Hannah was short of money, "and she did not get a lot of help from her mother." 

She said Lisa Barnes charged her daughter rent and for food she ate at home. She said when Hannah would get a raise she would have to pay her mother a higher amount of rent. 

Ms. Strauss said she was also Facebook friends with her sister, Lisa, "but now I'm not her friend on Facebook."

The witness said, "This was a very tragic accident. The Hennens were very fond of Hannah and they lost their son. It was a double loss for them. To blame them for this is wrong."

Ms. Strauss was called out of turn by agreement by both sides. The defense says it will later call Phil Barnes, father of Hannah, who will also say he does not agree with bringing the lawsuit.

Ivan Thomas, a server at Hennen's since it opened in 2005, said he worked a birthday party at the restaurant for Michael Hennen's mother, Corinne McDonald Hennen, on the night before the tragedy. He said 25 people were at the gathering.

He said Tim Hennen, father of Michael and the restaurant owner, gave a $150 cash tip to himself and Hannah for handling the party.

The witness said he clocked out at 10:31 p.m. and only Michael and Hannah were still there.

He and other witnesses noted that Hennen's has never been cited to the Beer Board for serving any underage person.

He said that sometimes servers have wine tastings in order to prepare for a meal. He said most spit out the wine after swishing it around their mouth to get an idea of its taste. He said underage servers sometimes took part in those tastings.

Mr. Thomas said that night Hannah was talking about "school coming up and she was short on money."

Jonathan Maley, who was a manager at Hennen's, said Hannah had started as a hostess and had only worked as a server for a short time when she was killed.

He said Michael Hennen was over the bar section of the restaurant as part of his duties.

The witness said he had never seen Hannah drink at work other than tasting the wine and spitting it out. 

He said he only watched a minute and a half of the Hennen's security tape showing Michael and Hannah in the bar area in the early morning hours just prior to their deaths because it was "incredibly upsetting" to him. He said this was the day after he found out about their deaths.

Chad Cox, former Hennen's general manager, said he got a call from Hennen's official Rob Stickley several days after the deaths asking him to check about preserving the video security tape. He said he called in an expert, who said the tape had already been lost because it was only available for 72 hours.

"He tried to retrieve it, but it was no longer there," he said.

The witness said Michael Hennen would sometimes stay late at the restaurant, watching ball games or checking the Internet.

He said on occasions that the Hennen's kitchen staff would be given free beer "as a thank you when they had worked very hard." He at first said that happened every 4-6 weeks, but he later said it may have occurred five times over his four years with the restaurant.

On the tastings, he said mostly it was wine, but on one occasion the servers tested whiskey and another time vodka.

Mr. Cox admitted that he had been fired from Hennen's last May after Tim Hennen discovered that he had been taking money from the restaurant. He said he would take money for himself that should have been deposited for the restaurant.

He said this amounted to some $14,000.

He said he agreed that he would try to repay the money within a year and was told he would not be prosecuted.

He said he considered the money as bonuses. He said he felt he had been promised bonuses earlier that he had not received.  

The plaintiff called Howard Cannon, known as the Restaurant Rhino, who said Hennen's was violating state law if it allowed an underage employee to have a drink on premises.

He was paid some $15,000 for his services in the case, including a stay at the Read House on Wednesday night, it was stated.  




 

 


 



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