RENSSELAER — Jasper County Prosecutor Jacob Taulman approached Jasper County Circuit Court Judge John Potter Tuesday to provide updates on the ongoing court case of truck driver Joseph Bland.
Bland, a Terre Haute man who was 43 years old when the case began, is accused of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. He appeared in the courtroom Tuesday for a pretrial conference.
Due to the potential for emotions to run high in the courtroom, Bland was escorted in by several officers from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office. They insisted that most of the people in the room either sit down or keep a certain distance from Bland.
During the pretiral conference, Taulman’s office was working on acquiring the black box that was inside Bland’s truck at the time of the incident. It is similar to the black boxes used in airplanes.
According to the Brauns Law Personal Injury Firm, a black box, also known as an electronic control module or event data recorder, stores data about the physical property of a truck in case it is involved in an accident that must be investigated.
This data can tell investigators what the truck’s speed was right before a crash, whether the brakes were applied and when, how frequently it was driven above a predetermined speed limit and other details.
“We’re still working on downloading that information,” Taulman said after the Tuesday’s conference. “We’re going to be able to have it in our possession in the law office.”
Bland was previously identified by investigators as the operator of the white semi-tractor trailer that allegedly failed to stop Oct. 10, 2018, at the intersection of U.S. 231 and State Road 16. This was part of an incident which led to the death of Melissa Deno, of Rensselaer.
On that day, a dispatcher alerted authorities about a traffic collision at the intersection of U.S. 231 and State Road 16, south of Rensselaer. Witnesses said a car had struck a tractor trailer, and that the tractor trailer had left the scene.
When investigators arrived, they found the badly damaged car and spoke to a witness, Jerry Akers, who claimed to have seen the entire accident unfold.
Akers had been traveling south on U.S. 231 and was preparing to make a turn onto State Road 16. The detective later accessed surveillance camera footage from the nearby Rose Acre Farms facility, which showed events consistent with Akers’ story.
The footage reportedly depicts the tractor trailer traveling west on State Road 16, toward the intersection, where it begins to slow down but does not come to a complete stop. Instead, the tractor trailer accelerates through the intersection.
Deno’s red car is also visible in the footage, where it can be seen traveling north on U.S. 231 and striking the driver’s side of the trailer. The car passes underneath the trailer and comes to rest on the north side of the intersection, after also striking Akers’ vehicle.
After the accident, Akers tried to flag down the tractor trailer. According to reports, Akers stated that the truck “appeared to slow to a stop” past the intersection after the car had passed under it, but then kept heading west.
Jasper County investigators were later able to find the tractor trailer, and Bland was identified as the man driving it at the time of the collision. Investigators initially pursued a charge of reckless homicide against Bland.
Bland surrendered to deputies at the Jasper County Detention Center shortly before 1 p.m. Dec. 8, then posted a $1,500 cash bond and was released. Though he must fulfill his obligations in court, he is not currently in police custody.
The intersection of U.S. 231 and State Road 16 has since been converted from an intersection with flashing light signals to a four-way stop. Previously, the north-south portion of U.S. 231 was equipped with yellow flashing lights, and the east-west portion of State Road 16 with red flashing lights.
Members of Deno’s family were present at the courthouse, wearing the slogan “Justice for Missy,” when Bland originally pleaded “not guilty.”