published Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Father of Signal Mountain teen killed in train accident testifies in civil trial

  • photo
    Phillip Barnes, father of the late Hannah Barnes, becomes emotional Tuesday while being questioned as a witness in Judge Neil Thomas III’s courtroom.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TIMELINE

Events on Aug. 21-22, 2011

• Shortly after midnight - Michael Hennen closes up Hennen's Restaurant after working a full shift; Hannah Barnes also worked at the restaurant that night.

• 2:40 a.m. - The pair stops at the Walmart on Signal Mountain Boulevard, where Barnes purchases a swimsuit.

• Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. - Pair buys snacks and water at the Kangaroo gas station near Bakewell, Tenn.

• 3:57 a.m. - Michael Hennen texts the caretaker at the McDonald Farm in Sale Creek to say that he and a friend are going for a swim on the property that night. The farm is about 30 miles from Chattanooga.

• 6:10 a.m. - A Norfolk Southern train crew calls 911, reporting that the train has struck two people on the tracks crossing the property at the McDonald Farm.

Source: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

The father of a 19-year-old Signal Mountain woman killed when a train ran over her and the son of a local restaurateur became emotional in court Tuesday, at times halting and crying as he saw childhood photos of his daughter.

In one toddler photo Hannah Barnes wore adult-sized gloves and ear muffs, a wide smile across her face.

Phillip Barnes testified in the second week of the $25 million civil lawsuit brought by his former wife against the Hennen Restaurant Group.

Barnes' mother, Lisa Barnes, sued the restaurant group alleging that Hannah Barnes had consumed alcoholic drinks at Hennen's, where she worked, in the early morning hours of Aug. 22, 2011. The restaurant is owned in part by Tim Hennen, the father of Michael Hennen, 27, who was also killed by the train.

Phillip Barnes described how he learned his daughter had died. He was in a work meeting with a client when a human resources representative asked him to come to the office. There, he met a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigator, who told him there'd been an accident and asked if his daughter had any tattoos.

"I'm not understanding what they're saying to me," Phillip Barnes said.

The investigator then showed him Hannah Barnes purse and billfold.

Phillip Barnes asked if the car was all right.

"No, you don't understand. There's been an accident," the investigator said.

The father showed little emotion. He shared contact numbers for other family members. He called his brother to drive him to see his son.

He met with his son in a Wendy's parking lot soon after he talked with the detective.

"I held it together ... to tell him that his sister died," Phillip Barnes said.

Lisa Barnes sued Norfolk Southern Railway, operators of the train. But the company is not included in the trial. Court documents indicate that both parties are negotiating an out-of-court settlement.

Barnes and Michael Hennen, 27, were killed when the 250-ton train ran over the pair at about 6 a.m.

Previous testimony about the train's video footage described the two lying on the tracks. Defense attorney Al Henry showed Phillip Barnes a sign-in ledger from Hannah Barnes' funeral, which included signatures from Tim Hennen and Corrine Hennen.

Phillip Barnes said the couple had been supportive. He also said he did not want to be part of the lawsuit.

Cole Adams, Hannah Barnes' boyfriend at the time of her death, also testified Tuesday. He said the day he learned of her death was one of the "worst days of my life."

Hamilton County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Metcalfe testified last week, slightly changing his previous statements about what he witnesses while watching the train video as part of his autopsy report.

  • photo
    Family members of the defense become emotional while in Judge Neil Thomas III's courtroom during the fifth day of a civil trial in which Barnes (mother of Hannah Barnes) is suing the Hennen Restaurant Group, alleging that her daughter's Aug. 22, 2011, death on train tracks can be attributed to her consuming alcohol at the restaurant where she worked hours before. Both Hannah Barnes and Michael Hennen died when a train struck them.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Originally, Metcalfe had stated that Barnes was "embracing" Hennen on the tracks before the train struck. But on the witness stand the doctor said they were lying face down on the track, his head at her feet, her head at his feet.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond declared the incident a "tragic accident" after an investigation revealed no criminal wrongdoing.

Plaintiff's attorneys C. Mark Warren and John Mark Griffin have called family and co-workers of Hannah Barnes to testify about her drinking habits and whether she drank alcohol at the restaurant. Some co-workers acknowledged that at pre-shift training sessions managers and servers at Hennen's Restaurant participated in wine and sometimes liquor "tastings" in which they would sample a small amount of a beverage and spit it out afterward.

Witnesses have testified that Hannah Barnes did participate in a couple such tastings.

The trial began on Jan. 21 and did not convene Monday. Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas III stopped the trial before noon Tuesday due to inclement weather and shut down the courthouse. The trial is scheduled to resume today, pending weather conditions.

The judge had previously said he expected for testimony to end by Friday but with the delays it may take longer.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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