Melissa Deno's family speaks out 1 year after fatal crash

For the past year, Melissa's family has been reliving that tragic day. Now, they're seeking justice- and they say they won't stop until they get it.

Posted: Oct 23, 2019 6:50 AM

JASPER COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI)—One year ago, a family was hit with the hardest news of their lives.

Melissa Deno was driving home from work on October 10, 2018 when her car was ran over by a semi. The driver of that semi drove away, leaving her to die. The crash happened at the intersection of State Road 16 and U.S. 231 in Rensselaer.

Difficult is an understatement.

For the past year, Melissa's family has been reliving that tragic day over and over again. Now, they're seeking justice- and they say they won't stop until they get it.

Joseph Bland, 43 of Terre Haute, turned himself in nearly two months after the statewide search. He bonded out immediately for $1,500.

News 18 met with family members who say it's not fair that Melissa is gone but the man who killed her is still living freely. They want to see Bland behind bars.

"I know I'm not the only person that's lost a child," said Cindy Burks, Melissa's mother. "But how do people- I don't get it. How [do] they do it?"

Burks is still looking for answers one year after her daughter's death.

When News 18 asked Melissa's sister, Kelly Neira, how the past year has been, she replied "weird."

"Every day after work she would get off and she'd call me on her way home," said Neira. "She didn't call me that day."

Burks sobbed as she told the story of what happened that day.

"We get this call that Missy was killed," said Burks. 

Surveillance video from Rose Acre Farms caught the crash on film. It also helped to track the driver down who hit Melissa.

"It's not right. Not right for her to leave us like that," said Burks. 

Joseph Bland faces one felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. If found guilty, he faces up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Melissa's mother thinks it's not enough. 

"Joseph Bland, you've got us to deal with right now, but you've got your whole lifetime to deal with my daughter Missy," she said. "Because she is going to haunt you the rest of your life. She will."

News 18 asked Burks what she wants to say to Bland, if given the chance. 

"I had to say 'goodbye' to my daughter the way that I did, and I hope that he knows that it really hurt," she said with tears in her eyes.

"When he ever hears that word 'goodbye,' I hope that he thinks of me, Missy's Mom, saying goodbye to Missy. Because that is no way to say goodbye to your child." 

Neira wants the case to be over.

"You never get a chance to just deal with it because every time it's like you gotta go to court again, you gotta go to court again."

She wants justice for her family.

"She wasn't just my sister, she was my best friend. My life is not the same."

Among other things, Melissa left behind two sons, a loving family and a secret recipe.

"She wouldn't tell anybody the potato salad recipe," Burks said with a giggle. "I said oh she's gonna take that to her grave! We never did get the recipe."

No matter how much time passes, Missy's family won't let her story be forgotten.

They won't let the place where her life was taken be forgotten either.

"We try to keep the corner up," said Burks. "That's all we have down there, where it happened. We're trying to spruce it up."

Melissa's family keeps flowers and pictures at the intersection where she died. They invite anyone to stop and take a moment to celebrate her life.

"I was out there one day and a big semi pulled up. Bless his heart, he got out of his truck and he stood there and he looked at Missy's cross. For somebody to take time out and stop, it made me feel good," said Burks.

Joseph Bland's final pretrial conference is scheduled for November 7th at the Jasper County courthouse.

Often times these pretrials are postponed, so we asked officials at the courthouse the likelihood of that happening.

Our reporter was told "the judge is ready for it to go to trial."

When it does, News 18 will be there to bring our viewers coverage.

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