By Liz Shepherd
ROCHESTER — The Indiana Court of Appeals has denied Alyssa Shepherd’s appeal regarding her sentence.
On Oct. 30, 2018, Shepherd, 26, Rochester, was driving a Toyota Tacoma when she struck four children after disregarding a school bus that had stopped to pick up students along SR 25.
Six-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle; and their sister, nine-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, including three counts of reckless homicide, one count of reckless driving causing bodily injury and one count of criminal recklessness.
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.
Shepherd is currently serving her prison sentence at Rockville Correctional Facility.
The 28-page document, filed on Monday, Sept. 14, lists several factors the Court of Appeals found as reason for denying Shepherd’s appeal.
Standard of Review
In her argument, Shepherd said the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she acted recklessly, which is required for reckless homicide and criminal recklessness convictions.
“When we conduct a sufficiency of the evidence review following a jury verdict, the appellate posture is markedly deferential to the outcome below: we will neither reweigh the evidence nor re-examine witness credibility, and we must consider only the probative evidence and reasonable inferences supporting the verdict,” read the document.
The document also elaborates on the definitions of reckless homicide and criminal recklessness.
“A person engages in conduct ‘recklessly’ if he engages in the conduct in plain, conscious, and unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result and the disregard involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct,” read the statement.
Shepherd first argued that the state did not show that she made a conscious decision to pass a stopped school bus. The brief further focuses on the difference between recklessness and intentionality, while using a case titled “Beeman v. State of Indiana” as an example.
The Beeman case arose from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in 1951 as Beeman was driving a loaded tractor-trailer on US 27, which was being resurfaced. Beeman did not reduce his speed in a construction zone and struck a car, killing a passenger inside. Beeman was later charged with reckless homicide and convicted following a bench trial.
The brief goes on to explain that “Beeman v. State of Indiana” shows that a conviction for reckless homicide may be sustained where evidence shows that someone understood the precise nature of a danger before them yet chose to disregard it or where a person has factual knowledge that would disclose potential danger, which they then disregard.
Shepherd passed a sign warning her to ‘Watch for School Bus’ and was also taking her own brother to school at the time of the collision, a circumstance from which the jury could determine that Shepherd was aware at the time that students would be going to school.
In addition, all of the school bus’s signals and signs were functional and engaged.
“We conclude that the jury reasonably concluded that Shepherd recognized that the vehicle before her in the road was a stopped school bus or that she was aware of conditions that would have disclosed that fact to any reasonable person,” read the statement.
Attorney General Curtis Hill applauded the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold Shepherd’s convictions.
“We understand that no court ruling will fully soothe the pain felt by those who loved their precious children, but we hope the decision assists in healing their aching hearts,” Hill said.
Double Jeopardy and Driver’s License Suspensions
The Court of Appeals moved to dismiss Shepherd’s Class A misdemeanor charge for reckless driving due to double jeopardy.
“Both convictions are based on the same act of recklessly driving past the stopped school bus and injuring Maverik Lowe, and both were established by the same evidence,” read the brief.
The Court also asked the trial court to issue a new sentencing order expressly indicating that Shepherd’s license suspensions are to be served concurrently.