Families starting to receive autopsy, forensic reports from Gatlinburg fires

Sister feels Gatlinburg fire victim died before flames reached him

Robert Hejny (source: family)

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Almost eight months after the Gatlinburg fires, victims’ family members are now starting to receive autopsy and forensic reports.

The body of Robert Hejny, 63, was discovered at Traveler’s Motel in Gatlinburg. Hejny’s family provided his autopsy report, which said he was lying in bed, fully clothed and had a room key with him. The report showed the direct cause of his death was carbon monoxide poisoning from inhalation of smoke and soot from the burning motel. Severe burns were also a contributing factor.

“That gives me some relief, because I’m a retired nurse. I feel like he breathed in carbon monoxide and was disoriented and everything. And so, hopefully he died before the flames got to him,” said Hejny’s sister Georgette Smith.

The report, which was completed on December 1 and reported to the state on January 18, called his death a homicide because at that time, the fire had been deemed arson. State charges have since been dropped against the two juveniles who had been accused of starting the Chimney Tops 2 fire.

District Attorney Jimmy Dunn explained the case couldn’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, calling the winds that night an unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable event, and the primary reason the fire left the park. He also pointed to other fires, sparks from downed power lines and a jurisdictional issue from a decades-old document.

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