ROCHESTER — Nine witnesses testified Wednesday, Oct. 16 in the opening day of testimony in a jury trial of Alyssa Shepherd, who is accused of killing three children after disregarding a bus that had stopped to pick up children outside of Rochester.
Among those testifying were Brittany Ingle, the mother of the three children killed in the accident and Maverik Lowe, a 12-year-old boy who was severely injured.
Six-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle; and their sister, nine-year-old Alivia Stahl, died at the scene from injuries sustained in the crash, which occurred on Oct. 30, 2018.
Shepherd, 25, of Rochester, is charged with three counts of reckless homicide after hitting the children with a vehicle as they crossed SR 25 to get on a Tippecanoe Valley school bus. Shepherd is also charged with passing a school bus while the arm is extended causing bodily injury and criminal recklessness.
In opening statements, Fulton County Prosecutor Michael Marrs focused on the definition of the word “recklessly.”
“In the end, what this case really comes down to is the defendant’s reckless acts,” Marrs said. “Evidence you are going to see in this courtroom shows that Alyssa Shepherd saw a large object in the road, but that she didn’t slow down. It takes about 15 seconds to travel a quarter of a mile. That’s how much reaction time Alyssa had to stop for the school bus. Everyone else around her reacted, but she did not. She wasn’t using her phone. Her brakes didn’t fail. She had fifteen seconds to react and there was no justification for it. None. Three kids are dead and Maverik is seriously injured because of her.”
Defense Attorney David Newman focused his opening argument on recklessness not being a factor in the case.
“Alyssa was taking her 12-year-old brother to his house when she saw something in the roadway,” Newman said. “She thought it was a wide load but wasn’t sure. Before she knew it, she approached the vehicle and then saw children in front of her. She became confused, panicked and hysterical. This is just a tragic accident. Alyssa wasn’t using her phone, and she had no drugs or alcohol in her system. Her acts were not reckless.”
The state then called Brittany Ingle as its first witness. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rachel Arndt asked about the morning routine Ingle and the kids had on Oct. 30, 2018.
“The kids were up and ready to go, surprisingly,” said Ingle. “Especially Alivia. She had been home sick for a couple days and was looking forward to making a candy bridge at school. She really wanted to do that.”
Ingle’s oldest daughter, Selena, had a doctor’s appointment that morning and did not go to the bus stop. Ingle then said she quickly went to get dressed for the day as her three other children went out to the bus stop.
“Then Selena said she heard screams and a loud crash,” Ingle said.
Ingle became emotional during her testimony as Arndt asked what she did after Selena told her what she heard.
“I just went running,” Ingle said. “I saw the twins on the road and just started feeling for pulses. Then I heard someone say, ‘There’s two more over here,’ and I immediately thought, ‘Where’s Alivia?’ How do you go and save them all? I was just running back and forth to my children … taking the sheets off of them, not wanting to believe it.”
Lowe testified after entering the courtroom with the aid of a walker. Arndt asked Lowe about what he remembered.
“I remember seeing lights coming toward me,” said Lowe. “I thought it was a car and I jumped forward to Alivia, Mason and Xzavier to get them out of the way. Then I woke up in a ditch and I remember getting put into a helicopter.”
Lowe has had 21 surgeries since the accident, including a knee replacement three weeks ago.
Maggie Harding, who was driving a vehicle behind Shepherd when the accident occurred, testified that she saw a stopped school bus and began to slow down.
Defense Attorney Michael Tuszynski asked Harding if she frequently traveled SR 25 and if she was used to seeing school buses on her typical morning route. “Yes, I usually see buses there a lot,” said Harding. “So I kind of expected to see a bus there.”
Two jurors asked Harding questions regarding daylight at the time of the incident, as well as if the bus’s headlights were bright or dim. Harding said the sun was in the process of rising and that the bus had bright lights on.
The school bus driver, Robert Reid, gave testimony and was asked by the prosecution whether the bus was having any malfunctions with lights on that morning.
“Every morning, I always checked to make sure the bus lights work,” said Reid. “And that morning, they were.”
Reid said he typically made about four stops before going to the mobile home park where the incident occurred.
“I put on my warning lights to let people know that I’m getting ready to stop,” said Reid. “Then I put on the red lights, which tells people to stop. There were vehicles stopped behind me when I stopped at the trailer park, and there was a vehicle to the far north that I thought would stop. At that time, in the morning, the kids had to cross the highway. In the afternoon, they were dropped off in a manner that they didn’t have to cross the road.”
Reid also told the court that the kids would stay away from the road and would wait until he waved for them to come and board the bus. “I just remember that vehicle in the distance not stopping,” said Reid, becoming emotional. “I started honking and they wouldn’t stop.”
Hobart Wheeler, who was driving a box truck behind the school bus at the time of the incident, also testified.
“I had my window halfway rolled down and could hear kids talking and laughing as they walked toward the street to get on the bus,” Wheeler said. “Then I saw lights from a vehicle and it all happened within three seconds. That driver was probably going at least 60 miles an hour. And I saw a vehicle hit kids. I jumped out of my vehicle in shock. At the time, I thought they were hit by a drunk driver. I walked toward the truck that hit them and a woman got out. And she said, ‘What did I hit?’ I threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘You just ran over some kids and probably killed them.’ She seemed almost nonchalant about it to me and got back in her truck.”
A 911 call from Joanna Kegley was played in court
“There were kids that were getting on a school bus that got ran over,” Kegley could be heard telling Fulton County Dispatcher Krista Sutton. “There’s kids laying in the road.”
“Are the kids laying in the road moving?” asked Sutton.
“I don’t think so,” said Kegley, in tears and distraught during the call. “This is ridiculous. This is why we wanted the bus to start coming into the trailer park.”
Several police investigators, including Lamar Helmuth of the Indiana State Police, testified about the crime scene photos and crash reconstruction efforts.
Approximately 90 photos involving the accident were submitted as evidence. The photos included aerial views of the crime scene; photos of Shepherd’s truck, the school bus as well as pictures of the deceased.
Helmuth said he was at the scene for about five and a half hours. Around 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2018, he attempted to recreate the scene using the same bus and a different Toyota Tacoma. Video of the recreation was provided as evidence.
“I could see the red lights [on the school bus] a lot more clearly than what this video shows,” said Helmuth.
The trial will continue Thursday in Fulton County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. The state has not rested its case and is expected to call more witnesses.