ROCHESTER – Friday morning’s foggy weather caused an hour delay in Fulton County Superior Court’s proceedings in the trial of Alyssa Shepherd.

Shepherd, 24, is accused of hitting and killing four children, killing three of them, with her pickup truck as they boarded a school bus during a 7:15 a.m. crash on Oct. 30, 2018.

The children were crossing Ind. 25, north of Rochester to get on their school bus when Shepherd hit and killed 9-year-old Alivia Stahl, her 6-year-old twin brothers, Mason and Xzavier Ingle, and severly injured 11-year-old Maverik Lowe.

The bus’s flashing lights were on and its stop arm was extended. Shepherd told police she did not recognize the vehicle as a school bus.

Shepherd was charged with three counts of reckless homicide, Level 5 felonies; passing a school bus with the arm extended causing bodily injury, a Class A misdemeanor; and driving recklessly, a Level 6 felony. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of 21-1/2 years.

Judge Greg Heller presided over the case and will sentence Shepherd.

Shepherd was represented by attorneys David W. Newman and Michael J. Tuszynski, of Stanley, Tuszynski & Newman, South Bend. Fulton County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mike Marrs and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rachel Arndt are arguing on behalf of the state.

The four-day jury trial came to an end Friday, with the seven-man, six-woman jury hearing testimony from more than 20 witnesses.

Trauma Surgeon Testifies

Court began at 9:35 a.m. Friday with the state calling its last witness, Dr. Dustin J. Peterson, a trauma surgeon at Parkview Regional Medical Center, Fort Wayne.

Peterson told jurors Lowe was moving and talking when he arrived via helicopter that day at Parkview. He said Lowe had cuts, scrapes and bruises all over his body along with an open fracture to his left leg. X-rays and CT scans showed Lowe also suffered a Grade 4 spleen injury, nose fracture, cut to the scalp, blood in his abdomen, fracture of the neck and cervical spine, contusion of right lung, collapsed thorax, collapsed lung, dislocation of a left knee, acute blood loss and difficulty breathing from a rib fracture and a fracture in the upper portion of the back.

The state rested its case after Peterson’s testimony.

Shepherd Testifies

Tuszynski called Shepherd to the stand.

Shepherd said she and her husband’s business, Alumi Tech, had moved from Warsaw to Talma in July 2018 and that she drove to their shop several times a week, usually in the afternoon and never in the dark.

Tuszynski asked her to tell the jurors what she saw the morning of Oct. 30.

“I saw a vehicle. It was a very large vehicle. I could tell it was in the other lane and it looked like it was coming toward me,” she testified. “I couldn’t tell what it was, but I knew it wasn’t in my lane as I was approaching it. Until I saw kids and my brain made a connection, my brain instantly knew it was a school bus.”

When Shepherd said she “saw the kids,” she shrieked loudly and cried and turned away from the courtroom, covering her face. She composed herself quickly after a drink of water and continued.

“Did you try to steer around them at all?” Tuszynski asked.

“I don’t know. I just knew I was pressing on the brake,” she said.

“Why didn’t you stop or slow down?” Tuszynski asked.

“I thought it was a wide load and it wasn’t in my lane,” Shepherd testified.

Her lawyer asked her if she had ever seen a school bus stopped at that trailer  park, to which she said “no.” He asked her what she did after the crash.

Shepherd told jurors she started searching for her phone, tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through, and called her husband. Shepherd said she can’t remember if she called 911 or her husband first. She then said she called Brittany Thompson, her friend and a Fulton County 911 dispatcher, to alert her of the emergency.

“Did you see the children?” Tuszynski asked.

Didn’t See Victims

“I didn’t see any bodies,” she said.

Her attorney asked her what the point of calling her husband was. Shepherd said he was just down the road and that he came and took the children that were in her truck. Tuszynski asked Shepherd if she remembered speaking with Fulton County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Larry Jolley during her ride to the hospital that morning for a blood draw and telling him she was late for work.

“No, I didn’t have to be at work at a specific time. I don’t remember that,” she said.

“When you left the scene, did you know how many kids had been hit and their condition?” Tuszynski asked.

Shepherd said “no” to both questions.

“We’re about two hours past the accident, and you’re sitting in the sheriff’s department with state police. Did it start to sink in what had happened?” Tuszynski asked her.

“At the accident, I was a mess, screaming, crying,” she said. “The only way I can describe it is an out of body experience. I felt real at the scene.”

Shepherd then told jurors that she had found out how many children had been hit after she left the hospital while she was en route to the sheriff’s department for her interview with Indiana State Police Det. Michelle Jumper.

“Why didn’t you ask Det. Jumper how the children were?” her lawyer asked.

“I thought, she’s interviewing me. I need to cooperate with that,” Shepherd testified. “I also was having an out of body experience and I also didn’t know if she’d have that information.”

Shepherd said after her interview with Jumper that she went to her church, Faith Outreach in Rochester, where her family and counselors were waiting for her.

She said after being at the church praying for several hours, Jumper arrived and arrested her.

“Did you intend to do this?” Tuszynski asked.

“No.”

“Did you know it was a stopped school bus?” he asked.

“No. I saw it was a school bus after I got out. I did not know the school bus stopped,” Shepherd said.

“There’s a sign that says watch for school bus. Did you not notice, did you disregard it?” Tuszynski asked.

Didn’t See A Sign

“I didn’t see it,” she said.

Arndt asked Shepherd if she rode the school bus when she attended school, and Shepherd said no. Arndt asked her if she knows what a school bus looks like and described a bus’s appearance in detail. Shepherd said she did.

Arndt asked Shepherd when she got her driver’s license and where she got driver’s education. Shepherd said in 2012 from Rochester High School’s driver’s ed class.

“If you see yellow blinking lights, what does that mean to you?” Arndt asked.

“It makes you aware of an object, it just depends,” Shepherd said.

“What about blinking red lights? What does that mean?” Arndt asked.

“Um, it depends. Could mean a warning of an object,” Shepherd said.

“Warning you of what? A risk associated with that?” Arndt asked.

“Maybe,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd testified she’s never had to stop for a school bus, nor has she ever been a passenger in a vehicle that had to stop for a school bus.

Shepherd also said she doesn’t drive at night often.

“Don’t you think if you’ve not driven at night that route on Ind. 25 before that you should have slowed down?” Arndt pressed.

“No,” Shepherd said.

Arndt continued to press Shepherd’s claim that she thought it was an oversize load in the road that morning.

“Have you ever seen an oversized load that extends into the other lane of traffic?” Arndt said.

“No,” Shepherd said.

Arndt asked Shepherd what she considers farm equipment, to which Shepherd said tractors and combines. Shepherd acknowledged to Arndt that she has seen farm equipment extend into the other lane, but that it means “you’d have to watch to make sure you were over” Shepherd said.

Arndt asked Shepherd if she thought that on a Tuesday morning in October when she was taking her own brother to school that there could possibly be a school bus on the road. Shepherd said yes, but that there were so many lights on the vehicle she couldn’t tell what it was.

School Officials Testify

Next, jurors heard from Lyle Butt, Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation’s transportation director. Butt told jurors he and TVSC Superintendent Blaine Conley run the meetings for transportation decisions and that there are no rules for driver’s waving kids across roads to board a buss.

“It comes back to the driver’s own ability, what he thinks,” Butt said. Newman asked Butt if there is any guidance or recommendation on distance for bus driver’s before they wave children across a road to board, and Butt said no, but for the yellow lights it’s 500 feet before a stop and 200 feet before a stop to activate the red lights.

Butt also told Newman there is no guidance from either the state or federal level for what constitutes a bus stop.

“Who has the say on stops?” Newman asked.

“The superintendent,” Butt said.

“Anyone else?” Newman asked.

“Well, I do,” Butt said.

“Prior to Oct. 30, 2018, was there any discussion regarding this stop?” Newman asked.

Butt said yes, in 2015 a car rearended a school bus on that route. The woman driver of that vehicle was texting and came around the curve and didn’t see the bus.

“In 2017/18 school year, were there any children actually picked up inside the trailer park?” Newman asked.

“Yes. There was a handicapped child. ... So the bus pulled into the drive,” Butt testified.

“Why isn’t that same procedure being followed for non-special needs children?” Newman asked.

Butt said it’s because the owner of the trailer park did not want the bus in there because of the septic system. Butt also said, “You can’t see worth a darn in there because it was dark.”

“You thought there was greater danger of the children getting struck in the park because of poor lighting than crossing Ind. 25?” Newman asked.

“Yes,” Butt said.

Newman asked Butt if he’d had any complaints from parents about the stop.

Changed The Route

Butt said yes, of course, after the Oct. 30 accident there were complaints and that the school changed the route to pull into the trailer court. Butt said the owner who originally denied them access now allows access.

Butt said the state also came and trimmed trees and brush so the bus could get through the park and that installation of a pole light was discussed but “nothing ever came of that.”

Arndt wanted to know how long that bus stop has been there, to which Butt testified since the Talma school so about 50 years. Butt said the 2015 rearending accident occurred around 7:15 a.m. and it was a light, sunny morning because it was a different time of the year.

“So, 50 years, two stops a day, 180 days a year, that’s about 18,000 stops, correct? Nothing further,” Arndt said.

The defense’s next witness was Conley, who’s in his second year as TVSC superintendent. Conley told jurors he oversees all operations and that he is co-director of transportation.

Newman asked Conley how he decides where the best spot for a school bus stop is. Conley said the number of students who will use that stop and the visibility of the stop are taken into consideration. Conley also said there are no guidelines for where the stops go and that it is at his discretion.

“Who else has input?” Newman asked.

“The bus driver, the bus garage and parents,” Conley said.

“But you have the final say?” Newman asked.

Conley said he did, and that there are also no rules for waving children across.

“Before Oct. 30, 2018, had you discussed any issues with this stop?” Newman asked.

Issues With The Stop

Conley said he received a call from someone who witnessed a situation with a bread truck. “It wasn’t a stop arm violation, but they were very concerned. So I contacted the bread truck company and someone at HR called me back and said they addressed it with the driver.”

Conley also acknowledged the 2015 rearend accident but said he doesn’t know if the bread truck incident was before or after the 2015 incident.

“Any concerns of children crossing a pretty busy highway?” Newman asked.

“No,” Conley said, but he added when asked if he ever had any ideas to change that stop that he visited the trailer park. He determined that children who are not school-aged could be running around when the bus was there and that the poor lighting was also a problem.

“Did you receive other verbal complaints?” Newman asked.

“Yes, I did receive a complaint from Mrs. Ingle, but I don’t know if it was before the bread truck incident or 2015,” Conley said. When asked if his corporation has since changed that route, Conley said yes, “All the parents were not going to send their kids to school unless the bus came into the park.”

Jurors then heard from Thompson about the phone call she received from Shepherd that morning. She testified that Shepherd is her good friend and that she had met her through their church. She said at the time of the accident, she was the assistant 911 director of the FCSD and has been a 911 dispatcher for 12 years. Thompson also explained Shepherd’s claim she could not get through to 911.

Friend Testifies

Thompson said two dispatchers were working that morning and that if those two phone lines were being used, then 911 calls would roll over to Marshall County. If Marshall County’s lines were being used they would have moved to Kosciusko County. Thompson said she was at home at the time of the call.

“When I answered all I could hear was screams. Screams like I’ve never heard before,” Thompson said.

She said it took her several minutes to try to piece together the information for what was going on. Thompson testified she believed Shepherd was in shock. Thompson said she grabbed her husband’s phone and called 911. She said Shepherd told her she didn’t know it was a bus. Thompson also testified that she was informed by 911 that there were two, possibly three, fatalities but she did not disclose that information to Shepherd.

“She kept telling me to tell her that the kids are gonna be OK, and I mean, I knew what I knew,” Thompson said.

“Did you ever become aware that she had tried to go help the kids?” Arndt asked Thompson.

“I tried to get her outside of the car, but she wouldn’t,” Thompson said.

Arndt then asked Thompson if she had recently posted on Facebook about this trial, and Thompson said yes, but only asking for prayers for the entire community. Arndt said Thompson is Shepherd’s friend and doesn’t want to see her get in trouble here today.

Husband Testifies

Next, jurors heard from Shepherd’s husband, Neil, who recalled it was “extremely dark that morning. No moonlight or starlight.” He said after Shepherd dropped him off at work, he got a phone call about five minutes later and Shepherd was hysterical.

“I couldn’t make out what was going on. I was trying to get information out of her and all I could get was there was an accident and there were children involved, but I didn’t even know whose children or our children,” he testified. He said he hopped in an employee’s truck and that employee drove him to the scene. He called 911 and that upon arrival, he ran through the ditch toward Alyssa’s vehicle. He said he tried not to look very much at the victims.

“I ran up to her and she was crying and she was telling me that it’s not OK and I was trying to comfort her and hug her and she kept saying it’s not going to be OK,” he told jurors. He said she kept repeating, “Why wasn’t there a sign?” He later figured out she was referring to the stop sign on the school bus, he said. He said he walked Alyssa around the front of the truck and sat her down into he passenger seat then his employee walked up and they removed his two children and Shepherd’s brother from the vehicle.

“We were covering the kids eyes and we told Ace (Shepherd’s 12-year-old brother) to look foward and not backward,” he told jurors.

He said the helicopter was arriving at that time and that he kept telling the children to not look around. His employee took the children to the Talma business and he called his parents to come watch them, he testified.

Then, he called his father to come pick him up because his wife had been taken by police to Woodlawn Hospital. Not wanting to wait at the scene, he said, he began walking toward Rochester for about a mile until he was picked up.

He told jurors after the hospital and the interview at the sheriff’s department, they were at their church for several hours and were walking outside to leave and head home for the day when police vehicles arrived and “they told Alyssa that they had to arrest her and take her to the police station.”

The defense’s last witness was Rodney Rudd, a former Argos Police Department officer, who told jurors he’s a great buddy of Shepherd’s stepfather, Jason.

Rudd said he lives on Ind. 110 near the intersection of Ind. 25 and that at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 14, he was driving back to his home from Mentone and saw a piece of farm equipment traveling on Ind. 110 so he got out his cellphone and began taking video.

Rudd testified the purpose of this was to show Shepherd’s stepfather how someone could be confused by the lights. Tuszynski moved to submit the video into evidence to which Marrs objected and told the judge this video made by Rudd may as well be a UFO video on YouTube. Heller overruled and allowed the video to be played.

The defense rested its case at 12:06 p.m.