A forensic pathologist testified Thursday in a lawsuit against McDonald's that 18-year-old Denton Ward died from assault injuries he suffered at the fast-food restaurant prior to being involved in a car accident.
Ward's parents, along with the parents of Lauren Bailey Crisp, 19, have sued McDonald's on claims the corporation's negligence resulted in their children's deaths in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2012.
The two were in Ward's 4Runner on the way to the hospital after leaving McDonald's off of University Drive when the driver of the vehicle -- Samantha Bean, 20 -- ran a red light at Holleman Drive and collided with another vehicle.
Bean and a fourth passenger in the vehicle -- Tanner Giesen, 20 -- survived the wreck.
Dr. Joseph Burton, a forensic pathologist whose resume spans more than 30 pages, testified as an expert for the plaintiffs and said there's no question Crisp was killed in the car accident.
But based on his analysis, Burton said, Ward died from a fatal skull fracture he suffered when he and Giesen were assaulted by a group of men at the McDonald's.
Had it not been for the assault, Bean would not have been driving Ward's vehicle in an attempt to get to the hospital, which is what led to the accident that killed Crisp, Burton said.
Plaintiff attorneys argue McDonald's had a responsibility to protect customers from unreasonable or foreseeable harm and insist the assault of Ward and Giesen was exactly that.
Throughout the week, jurors have watched several video depositions of College Station police officers who said prior to the accident they were regularly responding to the McDonald's between 2 and 4 a.m. on the weekends, where hundreds of people would be gathered after having left the bars.
Jurors were presented on Tuesday with a list of more than 20 police incident reports of assaults, fights or disorderly conduct from March 2011 to January 2012 between 2 and 4 a.m. on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
Eddie Sosa, a McDonald's regional security manager, said in a video deposition played on Thursday that he was aware of the police reports and numerous assaults prior to February 2012, when Ward and Crisp died, but didn't see a need for implementing safety measures such as hiring security.
The jury also heard from one of the 10 or so men involved in the beating of Ward and Giesen at the McDonald's.
Marcus Jamal Jones, or "Plucky," testified he heard Giesen use a racial slur, at which point he approached and punched Giesen in the face, knocking him to the ground.
The 22-year-old Bryan man said Ward then tackled him before Jones' friends pulled him out of the fight as Ward was assaulted by others.
Jones -- who testified he was recently hired by Mid-South Baking Company where McDonald's buns are made -- pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor assault for the McDonald's incident and served a 90-day jail sentence.
During a video deposition shown to jurors, Giesen denied ever saying anything to Jones or any of the men standing around him at McDonald's, and said he heard one of them say to him and Ward, "You're in the wrong neck of the woods, cowboys," shortly before receiving a blow to the face that knocked him unconscious.
Several witnesses to the incident have said Ward appeared to be attempting to break up the fighting and was not an instigator.
McDonald's attorneys contend the deaths of Crisp and Ward occurred because of decisions made by individuals and not because of neglect on the part of their clients.
In cross-examination of Burton, McDonald's lawyers pointed out that based on some witness statements, Ward was able to talk and walk after the assault, which would have been impossible had he received his fatal injury during the assault.
Testimony from McDonald's expert witnesses next week is expected to contradict what experts testifying for the plaintiffs concluded this week.
Chris Hamilton, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he anticipates resting the families' case on Friday after a video deposition from Samantha Bean and testimony from the parents of Ward and Crisp.