Niles driver says he thought he hit a deer

Published 10:31 pm Friday, November 28, 2003

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- A Niles man who apparently thought he hit a deer on the Saturday night of Sept. 6 didn't stop to check it out. He learned later that it was a pedestrian walking along Kline Road with a friend in Milton Township.
Delbert Jennings, 28, of Redfield Street, Niles, is charged with failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing death and involuntary manslaughter in the death of pedestrian Melissa Schrader, 20, of Granger, Ind.
Following a preliminary hearing before Judge Paul Deats Wednesday morning with evidence presented by witnesses for Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz and defense Attorney R. McKinley Elliott of Niles, Deats found probable cause to bind Jennings over to Circuit Court for further disposition with an arraignment scheduled at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 8.
Jenning's bond was continued at $50,000.
Testifying for Fitz was Amanda Dylewski, 19, of Cherry Road, Granger, who was a friend of Schrader. The two were walking along the right side of the road off on the shoulder going north. She said they were talking over Schrader's job hours at Osco Drugs. She said Schrader was walking closest to the pavement. The women heard acceleration of a pickup truck from behind. Then she saw taillights ahead, flash on and then a dark truck that sped away.
Dylewski said Schrader was gone. It was after 8:30 p.m. Michigan time and she couldn't see Schrader anywhere. She ran home through some back yards along Cherry Road and called 911. Cass County Sheriff's Department answered the call at 9:11 p.m. and was on the scene within minutes when Schrader's body was found in the grass about 100 feet away. It was believed that Schrader was found by Amanda's father.
Deputy Al Strukel testified that he was called to the scene. He checked for vital signs on Schrader and found none. By then it was getting dark.
Strukel said he went to a home at 3237 Redfield Street, Niles, the next morning after spotting some fluid on the highway. He was able to contact Jennings at the residence who had his vehicle parked in the garage there. Strukel said he noticed damage to the right front of the vehicle. He was told that Jennings hit a utility pole in St. Joseph County (Ind.). Strukel said he did not file a police report because he didn't have insurance.
Strukel said he appeared nervous and told what he did on Sept. 6. He said Jennings went to a Notre Dame tailgating party, left there and picked up his truck in Granger and drove on Cherry Road. He caught a mailbox on one of the curves while going north. He said he then thought he stuck a deer but went on to James Belardinella's home on Redfield Road. He indicated he had been drinking a few beers.
Strukel said Jennings claimed he did not see anyone walking when he went to the Belardinella house.
In cross examining by Elliott, Strukel was asked if the road was not well lighted. He said it was not. There were no sidewalks.
Also testifying was Christy Jennings, Delbert Jenning's sister. She said she saw her brother the day of the accident, before and after the tailgating party. She said he did not act impaired.
Also called by Elliott was James Belardinella of 3237 Redfield Road. He owns the Bittersweet Automotive in Granger, Ind. On the day of the accident, Belardinella said he was at a horse show with his son and did not see Jennings. He said he was not approached to do bodywork on his truck.
Brett Belardinella testified that he was with Jennings the day of Sept. 6 and that he had apparently consumed five or six beers. He was not with him the whole day. When he saw him later, he said he had hit a mailbox. He said he would not have dropped him off at his vehicle if he had any question about him not driving. He would have taken him home. He said later at the Redfield Street residence, he acted upset that he hit something.
In weighing the facts, Elliott said the charge should be negligent homicide.
If convicted, Jennings faces a maximum fine of $10,000 for leaving the scene of a fatal accident and a fine of $7,500 on the manslaughter charge. Each charge carries 15 years in prison.