Family wants answers in hit-and-run death

by: Shae Rozzi Updated:

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BARTOW COUNTY, Ga. —

On the heels of the birthday of a slain woman, her family is pleading for answers in her death.

Maria Elena Tabuena’s Facebook page was filled with birthday wishes Wednesday, but the Bartow County wife and mother didn’t reach her 30th birthday because of a hit-and-run crash that killed her just weeks before. 

“She was a great mom,” her sister-in-law Ashley Lackey told Channel 2’s Shae Rozzi.

Tabuena and her 3-year-old daughter, Melina Kate Trichell, were killed in December when a tractor-trailer swiped their SUV, causing Tabuena to hit a guardrail and a sign post, the Georgia State Patrol said. The SUV burst into flames. The truck driver continued north on Interstate 75 past Exit 293 in Bartow County.

“Melina was a gorgeous little girl,” Lackey said, adding that she loved everything princess-related.

Lackey said the family has felt lost ever since their deaths.

“Probably the hardest part was that my brother was surprising her by coming home a day early from working out of town, and he was stuck in traffic, and he didn’t know the traffic he was stuck in was his wife’s and daughter’s traffic,” Lackey said.

Lackey said Tabuena had just finished Christmas shopping with her little girl when the crash happened. Presents were in the back of the SUV.

“We haven’t even been able to recover her wedding ring due to the impact of the fire,” Lackey said.

The Georgia State Patrol told Rozzi that they have no new leads but released an image of what the truck involved may look like. It’s described as a long-nosed maroon Peterbilt truck with orange fenders.

Crime Stoppers is now offering up to a $2,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call the tip line at 404-577-8477.

Lackey said the family is financially strapped and is hoping someone might contribute to the reward so that someone with information would be more likely to come forward.

More than anything, she wants the driver to know what he’s taken.

“He’s taken away my brother’s family. He’s taken away my brother’s peace. My brother drives around, and he’s constantly looking for the description of the truck. How can you get past that?” Lackey said.

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