$25 Million Lisa Barnes Lawsuit On Train Deaths To Go To The Jury Wednesday

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Both sides finished their proof on Tuesday in the $25 million Circuit Court lawsuit filed by Lisa Barnes in connection with the Aug. 22, 2011, death of her 19-year-old daughter on train tracks at McDonald Farm at Sale Creek. Hannah Barnes died along with Michael Hennen, and Lisa Barnes is suing Hennen's Restaurant, where they both worked.

After final arguments that begin Wednesday morning in the courtroom of Judge Neil Thomas, the case will go to the jury.

The defense, which put on several witnesses earlier out of order, first called former County Medical Examiner Dr. Frank King. He said he did not believe that the blood alcohol levels for either victim were reliable due to the trauma their bodies suffered.

Dr. King said, "I don't think you can say whether either of them was impaired at the time of their death."

He said in a violent death with many body parts injured and fluids mixed that "all samples are suspect for contamination."

Dr. King said autopsies were not performed on the two young people because the cause of death was obvious and the office was short of funds on performing too many tests.

He said, "We had an inadequate budget. The county mayor and the County Commission didn't seem to be interested in funding our needs. It got to be almost a joke." As a result, he said, "We did autopsies when we had to."

Dr. King said he and his assistant at the time, Dr. James Metcalfe, were among those at the sheriff's annex viewing a video provided by the railroad of the incident. He said it appeared to him that the two were sleeping and made no effort to move.

Dr. Metcalfe had the same opinion at first, but he testified that he went to the office of the plaintiff attorneys and viewed the video 30-40 times. He said he then concluded that the pair moved before the impact and were aware that the train was bearing down on them.

Dr. King, asked one question, he said the answer would be in the medical examiner's file, "which I'm not allowed to look at for some reason."

He was a paid witness for the defense, while Dr. Metcalfe, the current medical examiner, is paid by the plaintiff, it was stated.

Asked why he retired, he said, "I was tired of it after 26 years with little help. It was a frustrating, hard job."

He said asked about a situation in which he and Dr. Metcalfe switched roles and he took a $25,000 pay cut. He said that came about when Dr. Bruce Levy"rewrote the state law (on medical examiners) by himself to suit himself." He said the new law had requirements that the local office could not meet, and he lacked a credential that Dr. Metcalfe had.

A forensic expert from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock defended the blood sample taken by Dr. Metcalfe by a "blind punch" into the heart of Hannah Barnes. He said that was routine procedure.

He said if Hannah had two mixed drinks at Hennen's and a beer at McDonald Farm she would have a blood alcohol level of about .071. The test from her heart blood showed her at .07.

Defense attorney Al Henry said there was no proof from any witness that Hannah had a drink at Hennen's. He said she could have left the restaurant, then returned later before going with Michael to the farm.    

Plaintiff attorney Mark Warren said, "You have to be impaired to lie down on a railroad track at night."

He said after Phil Barnes, father of Hannah Barnes, viewed video of Michael and Hannah at Walmart before going to McDonald Farm, he said he believed she appeared to be impaired. The defense closed its proof by showing that video as well as one a few minutes later when Michael stopped at a Kangaroo convenience store and went in to get a few items.

At the latter video, attorney Warren said at the end it showed Michael running a stop sign.

In the Walmart video, the pair are seen picking out a swimsuit for Hannah as well as a beach ball. Hannah is seen playfully bouncing the beach ball inside the store and Michael was tossing it up in the air as they left the store.

The defense called Sue Markley, who said Lisa Barnes worked with her at Gallery 1401 for eight years.

She said soon after the train incident, she was contacted by Sheriff's investigator Chris Chambers, who was trying to reach Lisa Barnes. She said she called Lisa, but got no answer. They then went to her apartment and found her in pajamas.

Ms. Markley said breaking the news to Ms. Barnes "was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was very difficult. It was very devastating. I really cared a lot about Lisa and Hannah."

She said she read text messages that were on Lisa's phone. She said Lisa had sent a text to Hannah late at night to ask where she was. She said Hannah replied that she was with "your favorite friend." She said Lisa told her she did not know what she was referring to, and Hannah said she was with Michael Hennen.

The witness said Lisa told Hannah not to do anything wrong and not to wake her up when she came in the next morning.

She said Hannah replied, "I won't, Mom. I'm fine."

Ms. Markley said she helped set up the funeral for Hannah, including arranging a wake at the gallery. She said Lisa Barnes and the family of her ex-husband "weren't very close at that time." She said the Barnes family "wanted to host everyone, but Lisa didn't want to be a part of that."

She said she had helped out Lisa at times, including arranging for a donor to help pay for him to stay in his current school.

Ms. Markley said a month after Hannah's death, she decided she "had to let her (Lisa) go." She said, "I just felt she needed to go forward."

Under cross-examination, she acknowledged that she always treated Lisa as a contractor employee and did not pay Social Security for her. She said she was advised that was wrong.

The defense played excerpts of a deposition of Lisa Barnes, including a part where she said she kept red wine and beer in her home. She told of talking on the phone with soccer coach Kris Ray about the couple getting back together. 

She said she had "a great relationship" with Hannah, though she said they argued at times like other mothers and daughters. 

The video deposition of Casey Dover, fiancee of Hannah's sister, Teal Orr, was also shown. He said he had seen Hannah drinking beer on a couple of occasions.

 


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