CLAYTON • As Yelena Pelts walked out of a St. Louis County courtroom Wednesday, Reena Colacot thrust a framed picture of her dead brother in her face.
“Take a good look!” Colacot said to Pelts. “And shame on you for what you did!”
Pelts told her she was sorry for her loss and walked off, surrounded by family and friends.
The brief encounter took place moments after Circuit Judge Richard C. Bresnahan gave Pelts, 55, of Chesterfield, five years of probation for hitting and killing a former college professor with her minivan last year, then driving away. She pleaded guilty last month to the crime of leaving the scene of a crash.
“I wanted her to see (the picture) because it was said she thought she hit a deer,” Colacot said in an interview. “It’s not a deer, it’s a human being. It’s my brother.”
Pelts ran over Roy Joseph, 41, also of Chesterfield, shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2014, on Olive Boulevard near River Valley Drive in the city. Pelts was driving about 40 mph in a 45 mph zone when she hit Joseph, who was walking home from Spiro’s, his favorite restaurant.
His body was spotted in the snow off the road the next morning by a woman heading to work. Police appealed for help finding Pelts after physical evidence at the scene pointed to her minivan. Pelts was arrested about a week after the crash but released the next day until investigators gathered enough evidence to have her charged.
There was no evidence of intoxication.
Pelts, a licensed esthetician, or skin care specialist, made no statements during the sentencing hearing and declined comment to a reporter, but her attorney, Gilbert Sison, said that the case was a “terrible tragedy” and that Pelts was “remorseful.” He said that Pelts had thought she had hit an animal or road sign and that Joseph had been wearing dark clothing and walking along a narrow, snow-covered shoulder.
“It’s a big burden that she’s going to have to live with,” Sison said of his client.
Colacot, one of Joseph’s sisters, called the judge’s sentence a “travesty of justice” and “a free passport for future felons.” She said that she thought Pelts should have been given jail time, and that probation for Pelts told her Missouri’s traffic laws were weak and needed to be strengthened.
“She walks away free,” said Colacot, of Cherry Hill, N.J. “She goes back to her regular life, to work, party, whatever she wants.”
A stronger sentence, she said, would have sent the message “that you just can’t hit somebody, kill them and leave the scene of the accident.”
Joseph was unmarried and had no children. He had three older sisters. He grew up in Pondicherry, India, and moved to the United States for college and graduate school. His family said he earned a doctorate from Texas A&M University and had worked as a professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Wheaton College in Illinois and the University of Minnesota.
Joseph had been living with family in Chesterfield for about six months when he was killed, his family said. His plan was to move to New York to become a freelance journalist focusing on artificial intelligence, a subject his family said he was passionate about. Colacot described Joseph as smart and knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. In court, she read a letter from Joseph’s 7-year-old niece, Hannah, who said she loved that her uncle often played soccer, piano and chess with her.
“He taught me about the famous artists like Claude Monet and Michelangelo,” Hannah wrote. “He also showed the skycrappers (sic) in Chicago. Now it is hard for me because my uncle is gone, he was hit by a car. And the person did not call for help. I pass the spot every day. I feel so sad when I look at the spot.”
Colacot said the family hoped to establish college scholarships in her brother’s memory.
“Roy was the pride and joy of our family,” Colacot said. Pelts “deprived my brother of basic human dignity. He was left to die on the wayside like a wounded animal in the cold bitter streets.”
Joseph’s parents, Thalakkottu and Aley Kutty Joseph, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pelts. The suit seeks at least $25,000 and is pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court.