Family members of fatal hit-and-run victim left with questions

Family members of a Jasper County woman killed in a hit-and-run involving a semi are wondering why the alleged driver drove off after the crash.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 7:30 PM

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) -- Family members of a Jasper County woman killed in a hit-and-run involving a semi are wondering why the alleged driver drove off after the crash. The accused semi driver is charged with one count of Leaving the Scene of an Accident Resulting in Death.

On State Road 16 and U.S. 231 in Rensselaer, you will find a tribute to what a family has left. A small cross, built by the victim's husband and sons, sits at the intersection. 

"It's really all we have right now," said Deno's mother Cindy Burks through tears. 

Melissa Deno was on her way home from work on Oct. 10 when she hit, and went under a semi at the intersection, according to court documents. Deno died at the scene, and the semi drove off. Cout documents say there was a witness that tried to flag down the semi driver. 

"She called me every day on her way home from work," said sister Kelly Neira. "Except that day."

After a statewide search, the driver of the semi was identified by the trucking company as Joseph Bland of Terre Haute. The semi was found just two days after the crash in East St. Louis. Bland is facing one felony charge of Leaving the Scene of an Accident Resulting in Death.

The charge against Bland was filed on Nov. 19, and a search warrant was issued on Nov. 20, according to court documents. Bland turned himself into the Jasper County Jail Saturday. He is now out on a $1,500 dollar bond.

"We just don't understand why," said Burks. "Why this gentleman has gotten out so early when shoplifters are in jail longer than this?"

But that's the least of this mother's questions.

"I just don't understand why he did not stop? Why he didn't check on her? He could have been with her for maybe the last breath or he could have held her hand. I don't understand how he did not feel the car go under the trailer?"

Court documents say the crash was filmed on surveillance cameras from Rose Acre Farms across the street. The video shows the semi not making a complete stop at the intersection.

"I feel for him," said Burks. "I feel for his family. But why didn't he stop?"

Deno was a mother, wife, daughter and sister. She loved to ride her Harley Davidson, and spoiling her dog and children.

"She's with us today, she's with us every day," said Burks. "It's hard."

The charge against Joseph Bland was filed by then-prosecutor Christine Bogan. Bogan resigned on Nov. 30, the office confirms. There is currently an interim in Jasper county with the prosecutor-elect taking over Jan. 1.

Bland has an initial court hearing on Dec. 18.

News 18 is working with our news gathering partners, in Terre Haute on this story. We expect to hear from Bland's lawyer in the coming days.

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