Day 6: How Heather died—Witnesses detail severity of injuries

Day 6: How Heather died—Witnesses detail severity of injuries

Marissa Blair Martin initially was unsure if she wanted to go downtown the weekend of the Unite the Right rally in 2017.  However, after the tiki-torch march through UVA Grounds on August 11, she changed her mind. She and her then-fiance, Marcus Martin, decided, “We had to so stand up for our community,” she testified in Charlottesville Circuit Court December 3.

Another reason she went was disbelief at such overt racism in 2017. “I had to see it with my own eyes,” she said.

Martin went with her friends from work, Courtney Commander and Heather Heyer, the latter of whom had parked at McDonalds, the same place the man accused of murdering her, James Alex Fields Jr., had parked earlier August 12.

Heyer was “very passionate,” easy to be around, and “very compassionate,” said Blair. “Heather was always outspoken. She was not argumentative but she tried to understand” where other people were coming from.

The four friends had joined a joyous group walking on Water Street. Blair decided to Snapchat the event. “I wanted everyone to see how happy everything was that day,” she said. “It was not all hate.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony played Blair’s video. Although not visible from the gallery, whoops, whistles, a drumbeat and the chant of “Whose streets? Our streets” could be heard in the courtroom.

Antony stopped the video and asked Blair about the woman with a long braid in front of her in the video. It was Heyer—and it was probably the last image of her alive.

In a split second, the scene went from happiness to “complete chaos,” said Martin. Screams could be heard on the video and Martin was yelling, “Marcus, Marcus!” She told the jury about being unable to find him in the “moments of terror” after the attack. “I saw the red baseball cap he was wearing and it had blood all over it.”

Nick Barrell, a captain with the Charlottesville Fire Department, was in charge of the station on Ridge Street August 12. He estimates that when he was dispatched to Fourth and Water streets, it took about two minutes to get there, he testified. What he didn’t know from the message he’d received—”Female struck by a car”—was the full extent of devastation that awaited him at the scene.

When he arrived, people were already performing CPR on Heyer. He noted a “very large contusion on her chest,” he said. “When you see bruising immediately after a trauma, that’s very serious.” Heyer, he said, had multi-system trauma with no palpable pulse and “she was not breathing on her own.”

Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Jennifer Nicole Bowers performed the autopsy on Heyer, and said blunt force trauma to the torso was the cause of death. Heyer’s thoracic aorta—the largest in the body—”was snapped in half,” said Bowers.

Heyer suffered multiple other internal injuries, including fractured ribs that lacerated her lungs and liver, and a broken leg.

DNA analyst Kristin van Itallie testified that Heyer’s blood and tissue were on samples she tested taken from the windshield and side mirror of Fields’ dark gray Dodge Challenger.

Dean Dotts, the second officer on the scene after James Fields was stopped at the corner of Monticello and Blenheim, testified the Dodge Challenger “appeared to be a crime scene.” trial photo

Witness Thomas Baker is a conservation biologist who had just moved to Charlottesville in May 2017. “I’m not an activist, but I wanted to be present against the hate that was going on,” he said.

Baker, too, joined the “joyous” group walking up Water Street. “The energy was very positive,” he said, compared to that earlier in the day when it was “very aggressive, very violent.”

By the time the group turned left onto Fourth Street, Baker was at the front of the group “I heard screaming and thumps,” he testified. “I saw bodies and a car directly in front of me. I was sure it was my very last second.”

The car hit the lower half of Baker’s body. His head hit the windshield and threw him up in the air and then onto the ground. When he saw the reverse lights on Fields’ car, he thought, “I’m not going to survive getting hit again,” and got up.

Baker knew he was seriously injured, but he wasn’t sure what his health insurance would cover. Initially his doctor recommended he try physical therapy, but after more than a month, when that didn’t work, he had surgery that put four screws in his hip, permanent sutures, reattached the labrum to the hip, and reshaped the femur head.

Before August 12, he said, “I’ve been an athlete, a really good athlete my whole life.”

Now he has significant discomfort and doesn’t run at all. The crash “altered every aspect of my life physically,” he said. “Every aspect of my life has been dramatically changed.”

Testimony on Day 6 of the three-week trial ended early, and according to Judge Rick Moore, “the commonwealth is very confident it will rest before lunch tomorrow.”

Correction December 4: Thomas Baker does have health insurance. It was originally reported he did not.

Correction December 5: Baker’s doctor recommended he try physical therapy first and that’s why he didn’t immediately have surgery.