ROCHESTER, Ind. (WNDU) Alyssa Shepherd was found guilty of felony reckless homicide in the fatal bus stop crash that killed 9-year-old Alivia Stahl and her 6-year-old twin brothers, Mason and Xzavier Ingle in Fulton County.
Alivia Stahl, Mason & Xzavier Ingle, and Alyssa Shepherd
Maverik Lowe, who was 11 at the time, was also hit and suffered severe injuries.
Shepherd's family left the Fulton County Courthouse Friday in tears.
"My heart breaks for her family very much. I feel for them. They are put in a very difficult situation," said Alivia's father, Michael Stahl.
Friends and family of the children said they were happy with the verdict.
"It's justice for Alivia, which is all we wanted," Stahl said.
"And today the system worked, just like we thought it would. We only wanted a fair trail," said grandfather, Michael Schwab.
"We finally have her held accountable for her actions, so we are relieved," said the mother of the three kids, Brittany Ingle.
Fulton Count Prosecutor Michael Marrs said it was the right outcome.
"The biggest thing with it is the total lack of braking, the amount of distance that was covered, and seeing something on the roadway on a Tuesday morning when it's school time, and just barreling right into it and not slowing down. We felt like that was unacceptable," said Marrs.
"Hopefully this has set a precedence locally for us, in our own community, and in the state of Indiana, that our society will not tolerate individuals passing school buses," Stahl said.
"You hope that you can do some good and help keep people safe and make some changes in the laws and set some standards, and I think that is what we kept in the back of our minds when we were going through this process," said Chief Deputy Prosecutor with Fulton County, Rachel Arndt.
The crash happened on Oct. 30, 2018, as the children were crossing State Road 25 in Rochester to get on their school bus.
In court Friday, a jury unanimously found the 25-year-old woman guilty of all three counts of felony reckless homicide, level 5 felonies. She was also found guilty of criminal recklessness, a level 6 felony, and guilty of passing school bus causing injury with stop arm extended, a class A misdemeanor.
Shepherd faces a maximum of up to 21.5 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, and until this time she will remain free on bail.
The court will also conduct a pre-sentencing interview (PSI) with Shepherd to assess her background and then a sentencing recommendation will be given to the court.
Prior to jury deliberation Friday, the prosecution rested and the defense called six witnesses to the stand, including Shepherd.
She told jurors she was "a mess" on October 30, and was screaming and crying and having an out-of-body experience.
She said she initially "assumed" it was a tractor or modular home on State Road 25, and that her "brain instantly made a connection" once she saw the kids, but it was too late.
During cross-examination, she testified she "noticed there were red blinking lights," but didn't see the bus or its extended red sign. She also said she didn't see the "Watch for School Bus Sign" that is posted along the curve on State Road 25.
The defense also called Lyle Butt, co-transportation director for the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation and Blaine Conley, corporation superintendent.
Both men said there were no state or district guidelines on bus drivers waving children across to board a bus, or where bus stops should be. Those decision were the discretion of the corporation.
In his testimony, Butt said the state did have distance rules for when drivers must turn on their lights: 500 feet for yellow lights, and 200 feet for red.
Butt also testified that the bus stop on State Road 25 had been there for at least 50 years, and during this time two accidents have happened there. He said the first was in 2015, when a distracted driver rear-ended a school bus. The second accident was the deadly Oct. 30 crash.
The crash caught national attention and prompted legislation to be passed in Indiana in April.
The MAXSTRONG School Bus Safety bill mandates safety changes that include requiring stop arm cameras on buses, no longer allowing children to cross state highways to board a bus and increasing penalties for those who disregard stopped school buses.
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