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 in Fulton County, has filed a response to the state of Indiana’s brief in 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 21-page document, filed on Monday, July 27, lists three rebuttals to arguments presented in the state’s response
- The state’s arguments that the convictions are supported by sufficient evidence are flawed.
Uliana argues that the state’s argument on sufficiency is inadequate because it focuses on whether a driver’s choice to pass a school bus with an extended stop arm on a dark morning is reckless.
“Shepherd never disputed that knowingly driving past a stopped school bus with an extended arm would constitute reckless conduct,” read the brief. “Rather, Shepherd argues that the state failed to present sufficient evidence that she made a conscious choice to pass the bus.”
The brief lists several pieces of evidence the state used to decide that Shepherd consciously passed a stopped school bus, including Shepherd’s admittance to seeing a large vehicle with flashing lights and a nearby “Watch for School Bus” sign.
“This evidence, at most, supports a finding that Shepherd should have known that the vehicle was a school bus, but is too speculative to infer that Shepherd did know it was a school bus and lied about it,” read the brief.
The brief also argues that the state erroneously characterized the driver who was behind Shepherd at the time of the accident as “inexperienced,” stating that that driver was more familiar with driving on SR 25 that early in the morning.
“Shepherd’s failure to stop for the school bus due to an error of judgment, without more, does not constitute recklessness as a matter of law,” read the brief.
Uliana also states in the brief that the state’s statement of facts does not reflect Fulton County Prosecutor Michael Marrs’ opening and closing statement.
“Had it been a reasonable inference from the evidence that Shepherd purposefully drove past a school bus with the arm extended at near full speed, the state would have argued such,” read the brief. “But instead, the prosecutor accepted that Shepherd did not know the vehicle was a bus while arguing her failure to slow down was reckless.”
The brief also focuses on the state arguing that failing to slow for a vehicle with flashing lights is reckless conduct.
“Such a violation is exactly the type of subjective traffic violation that is insufficient to justify a reckless homicide conviction,” read the brief. “If the legislature believed that failure to slow down for a vehicle with flashing lights is per se inherently dangerous, there would be a statute requiring it. It is disputable whether Shepherd committed any traffic violation by failing to slow down for a vehicle with flashing lights. Even if she did, the violation is a subjective one to be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
- The state’s argument that the trial court properly rejected the proposed instruction requires this court to overrule law.
“The state’s entire argument is based on what it wants the law to be, not what the law is,” said the brief. “For almost 70 years, the law has been that an error of judgment is an example of negligence, not reckless conduct.”
The appellant’s brief states the trail court refused to give the following instruction to the jury: “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.”
“There is absolutely nothing misleading about the instruction which would have provided legitimacy to Shepherd’s defense and clarity for the jury,” read the brief.
Uliana’s brief also argues that even though this tragedy resulted in the loss of three children, the case should not be placed outside the realm of negligence.
The brief also states that the difference between reckless conduct and negligence is difficult to explain and that a broad definition of the terms is not enough to accurately convey a difference between the two.
- Shepherd did not waive the license suspension issue.
The brief argues that the trial court ordered consecutive suspensions for Shepherd’s driver’s license and that the case should be remanded with instructions that the trial court order the suspensions run concurrently.
Uliana filed a motion to hold an oral argument on the case.