Woman left by road soon be released to family

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Plans are to take Denisse Escareno to Arizona amid squabble about bank account

By Lisa King

A woman who was beaten severely in November and thought brain dead in December soon may be released from the hospital.

Denisse Escareno, 24, who was found barely breathing and badly beaten on the side of Mount Eden Road by passersby on Nov. 5, has been at the University of Louisville Hospital since that time.

Escareno was in a coma for nearly two months and showed signs of improvement on Christmas Day by moving her toes, just days after doctors had told her family they didn’t think she ever would wake up.

She since has opened her eyes but hasn’t spoken, and her roommate of three years, Melody Riddle, said part of the reason may be because her jaws are wired shut because of her injuries.

Krissi Tipton, who says she considers Escareno her niece, said she visited her in the hospital Friday, and she said it’s everyone’s hope that when the wires are removed from Escareno’s mouth, it would make a difference.

“We hope it will be the push that she needs to try to speak,” she said.

Tipton said that Escareno is far from her old self, however, although her family members have given her a manicure as she lied there.

“She moves her toes and her fingers some, and she can move her head a little to look around, but she hasn’t moved her arms or legs,” she said. “We think she knows who we are, but we’re not sure.”


Fight over fund

Tipton and Riddle only recently have begun to visit Escareno again, after a family squabble was resolved, she said.

Bonnie Burgin, who operates a day care center on Mount Eden Road, where Escareno was working at the time she was assaulted, had opened a fund at Citizen Union Bank to collect money to help with Escareno’s escalating medical expenses.

Burgin said Wednesday that she was relieved that Riddle and Tipton had at least partially resolved a difficult situation involving Denisse’s mother, Norma Escareno.

Burgin said that the mother recently had moved her daughter to another location in the hospital and kept that location secret because she did not want Riddle and Tipton to visit her.

She was angry, Burgin said, because she had been denied access to the funds in the account at CUB that had been collected for her daughter.

“Melody was upset because she wanted to see Denisse; they lived together for three years,” she said.

She added that Riddle had found out where her room was and that she and Tipton had visited her.

Comments posted last month on The Sentinel-News’Web site by a person claiming to be Escareno’s brother, Daniel Contra, were critical of  Tipton, saying that she is not his sister’s aunt, that Escareno never was in a coma and that Tipton was taking the money from the account and using it for herself.

The newspaper was unable to contract Contra, and officials at the University of Louisville Hospital cited patient confidentiality in declining to disclose any details of Escareno’s treatment.

Norma Escareno could not be reached for comment, but Riddle said that Norma Escareno never wanted to believe her daughter was in a coma, despite the fact that she would not awaken.

She also said that her children and Escareno are first cousins, and she denied taking money from the bank fund.

“The only ones who have access to it are [people from] her work,” she said.


No money withdrawn

That would be Burgin, who is the administrator of the account.

“I opened that account, and I am authorized to take the money out,” she said.

CUB President David Bowling said that people open charitable accounts at the bank on a regular basis, mostly for businesses, but also to take up donations for individuals, such as Escareno. He added that access to those accounts are not regulated by the bank but by the people who open the accounts.

“We ask them to name the individuals, and then we have signature cards that we ask them to sign as authorized signers on the account,” he said. “Beyond that, we don’t determine in any way how the account should be used.”

Burgin said she has not dispensed any of the money in the account yet but plans to do so before Escareno is moved to Arizona.

She said she is waiting for more money to be deposited, as there are several businesses around town that have been collecting money through donation jars placed on the counters in their stores.

The account contains $546, she said.

“The store owners will be making their deposits in the next couple of days,” she said.

Burgin said that after all donations have been collected, she plans to ask the family if there is anything that Escareno needs that she can purchase for her, and if not, she plans to turn over the money to them.

She expressed dismay about the misunderstanding concerning the donations, saying that the reason she had not wanted to disperse it was because she had planned to give to Escareno personally if she awoke.

“I was hoping that when Denisse got better, she could use it for her benefit for whatever she needs,” she said. “And besides, it’s not that much money, certainly not enough to cause this kind of a situation.”


Move wouldn’t affect case

Shelby County Detectives Jason Rice and Eric Hettinger are assigned to Escareno’s case, and Rice said if Escareno’s family takes her out of the state, that would probably not make any difference in the prosecution of the case.

The man accusing of assaulting her, Mark Bruner, remains in jail under a $100,000 cash bond.

Bruner, 38, was arrested in Taylorsville 10 days after Escareno was found and charged with first-degree assault, a felony punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison. At a hearing in December, District Court Judge Donna Dutton had found probable cause to waive the case to the grand jury, which indicted him in January.

At that time detectives testified that Bruner stabbed Escareno with a screwdriver in the chest and hip while the two of them were driving down the road.

Jessica Schulte, assistant public advocate for Shelby, Oldham and Henry counties, said at that hearing that Escareno caused the life-threatening injuries herself by jumping out of the vehicle.

Riddle and Tipton both responded to Schulte’s words on The Sentinel-News’Facebook page.

Riddle wrote: “I hope that the public keeps in mind that Denisse jumping from that truck and causing those injuries to herself is a one-sided story. We do not know if she was pushed or jumped.”

Bruner has pleaded not guilty to the assault, both at his arraignment in district court in December and at the circuit court level last Friday, when his case was assigned to public defender Ashley Bailey.

Rice said that Escareno need not be present for the case against Bruner to proceed.

“That’s because our case is built not built on any testimony that she has given,” he said. “Our case is built solely on factual evidence.”

Detectives have said Bruner had picked up Escareno in his truck while she was walking to a cellular-phone store on that Saturday afternoon and that she left the store with him. They haven’t said why he might have beaten her.