Prosecutor Cameron Williams, addressing a jury from Nashville in the case involving the traffic death of Chattanooga Police rookie Nicholas Galinger, characterized Janet Hinds as a drunk driver who had five drinks that night before driving back home. He said she made no effort to stop, and waited days to turn herself in. He said the injuries were catastrophic, and that officers performed CPR for half an hour before Officer Galinger was pronounced deceased.
“She should have known better.
If she had made a better decision, we wouldn’t be here,” prosecutor Williams said. “She made several bad decisions that night. She was in the middle of the road, speeding, and left because she was impaired.”
Defense attorney Ben McGowan said that while his client undoubtedly hit the officer, he said there were several parties to blame. Attorney McGowan said the area was not well-lit, and that the supervising officer did not light the area with blue flashing lights. Officer Galinger’s body-cam footage showed a dimly-lit area.
“What happened was a tragedy brought about by a perfect storm of players,” the attorney said. “She is not the person to take the fall for the mistakes made by a myriad of parties.”
Officer Galinger was struck and killed by a vehicle while inspecting an overflowing manhole cover during a rainstorm on Hamill Road in Hixson in February 2019. Police believe an intoxicated Hinds was driving that vehicle, and that she fled the scene. Ms. Hinds is charged with vehicular homicide by intoxication, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving, failure to report an accident, and failure to render aid, among other charges.
Ms. Hinds’ daughter-in-law Melissa Hinds said she saw Janet Hinds sipping on one beer when she arrived at the Farm to Fork Restaurant on General Lee Drive in Ringgold. She said Ms. Hinds was watching a Southern rock band perform at a local bar until around 11 p.m. at night. The witness told both the prosecutor and defense attorney that Ms. Hinds did not appear or act intoxicated before the witness and her husband left. She said they offered to drive Ms. Hinds home.
“She called me around 11:30 and said she hit a road sign,” Melissa Hinds said. “She seemed totally fine. She said the blinking light wasn’t on (the barricade).”
The witness said she and her husband realized Ms. Hinds had hit a police officer after seeing news reports the next morning. They drove over to Ms. Hinds’ residence and saw the damaged vehicle. The witness said she saw hair on the cracked windshield.
“Her demeanor was severely distraught, because she was trying to process what happened,” Melissa Hinds said. “We were under the impression she was getting a lawyer and then turning herself in.”
During the cross-examination with attorney McGowan, she discussed phone and text records between herself and her husband, which corroborated her previous testimony. She said that her mother-in-law was not a good driver, but that she had never seen her drive under the influence.
“I would’ve gotten her keys out of her purse and had her come with us (if she was intoxicated),” Melissa Hinds said when asked about what she would have done if Janet Hinds was intoxicated but refused to be driven.
Officer Galinger’s field training officer Jarrod Justice answered a series of questions after the jury watched his body cam footage. It showed him describing what happened to several different officers.
“The suspect’s vehicle was straddling both lanes,” Justice could be heard saying, and it showed him yelling at a vehicle that may have also hit Galinger. “This vehicle cannot leave, because I think they ran him over as well.”
Defense attorney McGowan grilled officer Justice on the decisions he made before officer Galinger’s death. He asked why he did not turn his lights on to further illuminate the area, although the manhole was directly under a streetlight.
“It would have pointed the attention to my car, and the streetlight was getting the other cars to slow down,” officer Justice said.
The witness said he has not spoken with investigator Joe Warren about the events of that night since the preliminary hearing. He said that Ms. Hinds’ car was traveling at a higher rate of speed than any other car, including the vehicle that he had to stop immediately afterward.
“In one situation, I was calmly standing and watching,” he told attorney McGowan when the defense attorney asked him how he could tell that Ms. Hinds’ car was speeding while he could not make a determination of the other car’s speed. “In the other, I had just watched my fellow officer just get killed.”
The defense asserted that there may have been bias present during CPD’s investigation of officer Galinger’s death. Lt. Justin Kilgore assisted in the investigation, and said, “Every single death in Chattanooga and the county deserves the same kind of attention from us.”
A piece of Ms. Hinds’ car was found at the scene and was used to identify the kind of car she drove. CPD’s investigator found the vehicle and told the court that there appeared to be no effort made to hide the vehicle.
“I could see a bunch of damage and the front windshield was spiderwebbed,” the investigator said, while CPD’s Tim Pickard said he spoke to a neighbor and then went to speak with Melissa Hinds.
“They were very nice and cordial, and they advised they did not know where she was at,” officer Pickard said. After speaking with them and still being unable to find her, he said Janet Hinds was placed on the TBI’s top 10 Most Wanted list.
Judge Don Poole is hearing the trial of the former Soddy Daisy postmaster. It will resume on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.