INDIANAPOLIS — Investigators are still working to find the person responsible for hitting and killing a man Sunday night on Indianapolis’ southwest side.
According to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) officers were called to the area of Mann Road and W. Mooresville Road Sunday night around 11:42 p.m. after a caller reported seeing a person lying down on the road.
The victim, who family identified as 81-year-old Thomas “Tom” Hembree, a military veteran, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to IMPD.
“I’m gonna miss him so much. I don’t know how I’m going to handle getting up in the morning and him not being there,” said Vonnie Hembree. “Cause it’s already lonely but the kids have kept me busy.”
Tom’s wife of 57 years, Vonnie, said the couple shared three children, five grandchildren, and recently celebrated the birth of their first great grandchild, who he couldn’t wait to meet.
“He was so proud of them too, son, daughters, you know it was just something else,” said Vonnie.
Family members said the last 13 years had been difficult as Tom’s health began to decline. About seven years ago, they were thrown another curveball.
“He had Lewy body dementia, which is a very evil form of dementia,” said Robyn Neitzel, Tom’s niece. “It’s rough, and being a caregiver is really, really hard and she’s done an amazing job with him.”
Neitzel described Tom, who also had Parkinson’s disease, as a fighter. In June, he fell and broke his hip, requiring surgery and rehabilitation.
“After rehab, the family chose to bring him home on hospice. I’m a hospice nurse. We decided it was the best for him,” said Neitzel.
In his last week, Neitzel said Tom had been struggling with confusions and other behaviors related to his Lewy body dementia. He wasn’t sleeping well, and in turn, neither was Vonnie.
“Sunday evening she got his bed all ready and got him in his bedroom,” said Neitzel. “Her room is next to his because he has a hospital bed. When she woke up around five in the morning, she couldn’t find him.”
According to family, his walker, was also missing.
“When I couldn’t find him that morning, I thought, where would he have gone? I went all through the house, all the yard and looked in the neighbor’s yard,” said Vonnie, who then called her sister, Brenda.
“I say, ‘Brenda, I can’t find Tom.’ She says, ‘what do you mean?’ I said, ‘he’s gone,’” Vonnie explained. “I don’t know how he got out of this house because I usually hear everything, except that I had become so exhausted that when I went to bed that night, I must have just fell asleep right away.”
After alerting the hospice care team and calling IMPD to report Tom as missing, Vonnie said officers came to their home and began to work with them and ask questions so they could help.
Tragically, they soon learned that he wasn’t missing; he had been killed by a hit-and-run driver.
“They realized the connection between the fatality that happened the night before, that it was our uncle Tom,” said Neitzel.
“I just don’t know how to explain it. I never thought I’d have to go through anything like this. I thought I was going to wake up one morning and he was going to be peacefully asleep or peacefully gone – already traveled to heaven because I know he’s there now,” said Vonnie.
Family is still trying to figure out many things, including how Tom was able to walk out of the home undetected by both Vonnie and their dog, how he was able to walk down a sloped driveway, and how he was physically able to walk more than a quarter mile, when he had difficulty simply moving around the home.
Family said they don’t believe the initial crash was intentional, but rather, that the driver’s choice to leave the scene, was.
“We feel like this was an accident until it turned into not being an accident,” said Neitzel. “If that person would have just stopped, we would have understood it was an accident. He was in the road and didn’t know where he was, but this person we feel like didn’t have a conscience. We feel like this was an accident until it turned into not being an accident.”
Vonnie said she was told by officers that information led them to believe her husband was standing in the road when he was struck, not laying down.
“He did have some massive injuries. Any one of the massive injuries would have been enough to kill him,” said Vonnie. “They had to see him. He was standing in the road.”
“It wasn’t like they hit an animal; they knew they hit a person and kept driving,” said Neitzel.
As Tom’s family works to cherish happier memories, like his love for fishing and camping, the way he would interact with his neighbors and offer to help, even if he wasn’t physically capable, and the way he loved his family unconditionally, they’re also hoping someone will come forward to help them begin to find some clarity and peace.
“It’s heart wrenching to know that he was confused in where he was at and that someone just left him there and didn’t stop,” said Neitzel. “If he was in an accident, he would’ve stopped. I mean, that’s just a good human.”
No arrests have been made in the case, according to IMPD, and no suspect or vehicle information has been released.
“He would speak up. So I ask the people, if you know anything, please speak up. Help me heal,” Vonnie pleaded.
Their family is asking anyone who lives in the area to check surveillance cameras on businesses and homes, including doorbell cameras, and to call police if you know anything that could help them get answers.
Anyone with information about this incident should call the IMPD Hit and Run Office at (317) 327-6549 or Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at (317) 262-TIPS (8477).
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