ROCHESTER — The second day of Alyssa Shepherd’s jury trial was delayed three hours Thursday morning, Oct. 17, after a female juror was excused.
The trial was delayed until 11:30 a.m. A reason for the delay was not initially provided; however, it became apparent when the trial resumed and there was one less alternate juror.
After the trial recessed for the day and jurors were excused from the courtroom Thursday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gregory Heller addressed the crowd still present about the delay.
Heller said that after proceedings ended Wednesday, the court was made aware of alleged juror bias through a written complaint. An in-chamber voir dire session was held to determine if any bias existed for each juror. No evidence of bias was found; however, the accused juror asked to be excused from court proceedings and was allowed to leave.
Five women and seven men now sit on the jury, with one alternate member still remaining. The original makeup of the jury was six men and six women.
Shepherd was driving a Toyota Tacoma and struck four children, killing three after she disregarded a school bus that had stopped to pick up children on SR 25 north of Rochester. Six-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle; and their sister, nine-year-old Alivia Stahl, died at the scene in the Oct. 30, 2018, crash.
Shepherd, 25, of Rochester, is charged with three counts of reckless homicide. She is also charged with criminal recklessness and passing a school bus while the arm is extended causing bodily injury.
The state continued its case Thursday by calling seven witnesses, the first of which was Dr. Darin Wolfe, a forensic pathologist. Autopsy photographs of six-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle; and nine-year-old Alivia Stahl, were admitted as evidence.
Wolfe told the court that autopsies for all three children were performed on Oct. 31, 2018, the day after the incident. He elaborated on the details of the external and internal injuries for each child.
The cause of death for all three was multiple blunt force trauma injuries, Wolfe said.
Fulton County Prosecutor Michael Marrs asked Wolfe if the children’s injuries were consistent with being hit by a vehicle. Wolfe said they were and that the manner of death for all three was ruled as accidental.
Defense Attorney Michael Tuszynski asked Wolfe about the manner of death and if it was determined to be accidental.
“That’s just a medical determination,” said Wolfe. “It’s not the job of a pathologist to determine if there’s anything criminally involved with the deaths.”
According to Wolfe, there are five different manners to classify death. These include natural, accidental, suicide, homicide and undetermined.
Jason “Ace” Hudkins, Shepherd’s younger brother, was the next witness to take the stand. The sixth-grader was in the back of Shepherd’s Tacoma at the time of the incident.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rachel Arndt asked Hudkins about the morning routine he had on the day of the accident. Hudkins said he spent the night at his sister’s house and went with her to drop off Shepherd’s husband at work. After that, Shepherd drove south on SR 25 to take her brother to school. Hudkins and Shepherd’s two children were in the back seat of the truck.
“Did you see anything in the roadway while you were in the truck?” asked Arndt.
“I saw an object that I thought was a semi,” said Hudkins.
Arndt then asked Hudkins about an interview he did with officers shortly after the incident occurred.
“Is it true your sister asked you, ‘Hey? Do you know what that is? I don’t know,’ and that she said ‘I think it’s a semi so I am going to go around it.'”
Hudkins agreed with the statement.
A video interview between Shepherd and Indiana State Police Detective Michelle Jumper was played for the court. The interview took place just hours after the accident.
During the interview, Jumper asked Shepherd about what she remembered from the incident.
“I remember seeing a vehicle but I had no idea what it was,” said Shepherd. “My memory is kind of crazy right now. And then I remember there were kids in front of me.”
Shepherd said she traveled on SR 25 several days a week, but didn’t typically travel on that road early in the morning. Jumper also asked Shepherd what she did after the crash occurred.
“I didn’t know what to do for a second and then I started looking for my phone to call somebody for help,” said Shepherd. “I tried calling 911 but no one was picking up. Then I called my friend who works as a dispatcher.”
After the video interview was played, Marrs asked Jumper if Shepherd asked how the children she struck were doing. Jumper said Shepherd did not ask about them.
Lieutenant Terry Gose, an Indiana State Police trooper, testified and provided a crash data report, which showed details on Shepherd’s Toyota Tacoma five seconds prior to the collision. Statistics were presented at half-second intervals. According to the data report, Shepherd’s vehicle was traveling at about 58 mph just 2.8 seconds before impact. The report also showed that the brakes on Shepherd’s vehicle were applied 0.8 seconds before impact when the vehicle was traveling at 55 mph. Gose said Shepherd’s vehicle was traveling at 41 mph at the time of impact.
During cross-examination, Tuszynski asked about each of the measurements provided, as well as perception-reaction time.
“The average reaction time for a person is 1.6 seconds,” said Tuszynski. “That’s just on average. Do you agree that that time would change if it was nighttime?”
Goes said the average reaction time varies a lot, but that reaction time can fluctuate at nighttime.
Indiana State Police Trooper Travis Harrold testified in regard to a school bus inspection.
“There were violations for the bus, like a missing first aid kit and the size of a trash can,” said Harrold. “But the bus lights and stop arm were all functioning correctly.”
Sergeant Scott Gilbert, a crime scene investigator with the Indiana State Police, also testified and said he was at the scene for more than five hours. In court, he presented a reconstruction of the road where the accident occurred using a 3D capture program. Gilbert provided measurements between the front of the school bus and the three children’s bodies at the scene. According to his measurements, there were 49 feet between the front of the bus and the twins’ bodies, and 85 feet between the front of the bus and Alivia Stahl’s body.
Sergeant Larry Jolley, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, was also called to testify. Jolly took Shepherd to a hospital for a blood draw.
There were no drugs or alcohol in her system and she was not using her phone at the time of the accident, investigators learned.
“She was upset,” said Jolley. “But she was cooperative through the whole process. She asked how long the test would take because she didn’t want to be late to work.”
The trial will continue Friday in Fulton County Superior Court. The state is expected to call more witnesses.