By Liz Shepherd
ROCHESTER — Alyssa Shepherd, the 25-year-old Rochester motorist who struck four children, killing three of them at a bus stop on SR 25, has filed an appellant’s brief with the Indiana Court of Appeals regarding her sentence.
Stacy R. Uliana, Bargersville, is the attorney representing Shepherd in her appeal.
On Oct. 30, 2018, Shepherd was driving a Toyota Tacoma when she struck four children after she disregarded a school bus that had stopped to pick up students along SR 25, just north of Rochester. Six-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle; and their sister, 9-year-old Alivia Stahl, died at the scene. Maverik Lowe, who was 11 at the time of the accident, was severely injured.
In a four-day jury trial in October 2019, Shepherd was found guilty on five criminal charges. In December 2019, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gregory Heller sentenced Shepherd to four years in prison, three years in community corrections or home detention and three years on formal probation. She is currently serving her prison sentence at Rockville Correctional Facility.
The 29-page appeal, filed on May 5, lists four main arguments as to why the state of Indiana’s judgment should not have been entered.
- The State failed to present substantial evidence of a probative value from which reckless conduct could be inferred.
Uliana argues that the state failed to prove Shepherd acted recklessly on Oct. 30, 2018.
“In order to prove Shepherd acted recklessly, the State must have presented substantial evidence of a probative value that when Shepherd failed to stop for the bus, she did so ‘in plain, conscious and unjustifiable disregard of the harm that might result’ and that the disregard ‘involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct,'” read the appeal.
The brief also argues that the State failed to present evidence to the jury that Shepherd made a conscious choice to pass a stopped school bus; and that Shepherd’s response to her observation of a vehicle with bright lights in the oncoming lane does not rise to a level of recklessness.
“The State offered no evidence or explanation as to why Shepherd failed to realize it was a bus, other than Shepherd’s own statements that she was confused by the bright lights,” read the appeal. “No matter how tragic the consequences, the State failed to prove that Shepherd’s passing of the school bus was based on something other than her erroneous belief it was an oversized load or farm implement.”
The brief also says that the harm from not slowing down for bright lights coming from an unknown vehicle is not plain, but speculative.
“Shepherd was not drinking or using drugs,” read the appeal. “She was not diverting her attention to her kids, her phone or something other than the road. Shepherd did not knowingly commit any traffic infraction other than driving a few miles over the speed limit. She simply made an error in judgment. The fact that her error killed three siblings and forever scarred another little boy is tragic almost beyond imaginable for a parent, but it does not change the fact it was still an accident. Because there was insufficient evidence of reckless conduct, Shepherd’s convictions for Counts I through V must be vacated.”
- The trial court committed reversible error by failing to give Shepherd’s tendered instruction elaborating on the difference between negligence and recklessness.
The brief alleges that the trial court refused to give the following instruction tendered by Shepherd: “proof that an accident arose out of the inadvertence, lack of attention, forgetfulness or thoughtfulness of the driver of a vehicle, or from an error of judgment on his part, will not support a charge of reckless homicide.”
Uliana argues that the trial court refused this instruction without providing any reasoning.
She also notes that there was evidence to support the specific instruction and argues that it is an “abuse of direction to deny instructions that elaborate on the difference between negligence and recklessness.”
Uliana also argues that Shepherd’s innocence or guilt “teetered on the fine line between negligence and recklessness. The failure to give the legally correct and essential instruction on the central issue of the case prejudiced Shepherd.”
- Shepherd’s convictions for criminal recklessness and recklessly passing a school bus violate double jeopardy.
Uliana argued that Counts 4 and 5 of Shepherd’s criminal charges are both based on the same act and are for the same victim, Maverik Lowe.
“Because there is a reasonable probability that the jury used the same evidence of Shepherd driving past the bus to support both convictions, the conviction and sentence for Count 4 must be vacated,” read the appeal.
- The trial court erred by ordering Shepherd’s license suspensions to run consecutively.
Uliana argues that Indiana Code 9-30-16-1(d) states “multiple suspensions of driving privileges ordered by a court that are part of the same episode of criminal conduct shall be served concurrently.” As part of Shepherd’s sentence for each count of reckless homicide and criminal recklessness, the trial court ordered Shepherd serve a three-year license suspension and that the sentences would be served consecutively.
“As such, these are part of one episode of criminal conduct,” read the appeal. “Shepherd’s license suspensions must run concurrently.”