Man enters plea in Milton traffic death

Published 1:13 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- A Niles man averted a trial Tuesday by pleading no contest to two 15-year felonies, fleeing the scene of a fatal accident and involuntary manslaughter.
His no-contest plea, which the court treats as guilty, was taken without negotiation of a plea bargain.
Charges resulted from a fatal hit-and-run accident in Cass County's Milton Township last year.
Delbert Jennings, 29, was accused of running over Melissa Schrader, 20, of Granger, Ind., with his pickup truck as she walked along Kline Road at dusk on the evening of Sept. 6, 2003, with a friend, Amanda Dylewski.
Jennings, arrested the following day, told authorities he thought he struck a deer.
His only previous record was impaired driving in Indiana several years ago.
Circuit Judge Michael E. Dodge set Jennings' sentencing for 8:30 a.m. Friday, June 25.
Previous testimony in the case indicated Jennings drank beer at a University of Notre Dame home football game tailgate party.
Jennings also told police he was talking on his cell phone when his pickup truck hit a mailbox where the road near the Indiana state line veers west at a 90-degree angle before heading north again.
Sgt. Jeff Smith of the Cass County Sheriff's Office took the witness stand to lay a factual basis for a no-contest plea.
Smith testified that Jennings initially admitted to drinking "a couple" of beers at the tailgate party, but Jennings' friend, Brett Belardinella, previously estimated the number of alcoholic beverages consumed at six about three hours before.
Smith said Dylewski described for officers the two friends walking off the traveled portion of Kline.
She was farther away from the road and heard the pickup strike the mailbox, then the engine revving as the vehicle passed them off the pavement without stopping.
Jennings' truck was located the following day in a garage near the accident scene.
Investigating officers matched a paint chip found near Schrader to the vehicle.
Attorney R. McKinley Elliott represented Jennings.