ROCHESTER – Testimony began at 8:54 a.m. Wednesday in Fulton County Superior Court for the trial of Alyssa Shepherd.

Shepherd, 24, is accused of hitting four children, killing three of them, as they boarded a school bus in October 2018. She faces three charges of reckless homicide, Level 5 felonies; passing a school bus with the arm extended where bodily injury results, a Class A misdemeanor; and criminal recklessness committing aggressive driving resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 6 felony.

The crash happened around 7:15 a.m. Oct. 30 when Shepherd allegedly struck and killed 9-year-old Alivia Stahl, her 6-year-old twin brothers, Mason and Xzavier Ingle, and severely injured 11-year-old Maverik Lowe.

The children were crossing Ind. 25 north of Rochester to get on their school bus when they were hit. The bus’s flashing lights were on and its stop arm extended.

Shepherd told police she did not recognize the vehicle as a school bus.

Judge Greg Heller is presiding over the scheduled four-day trial, with the six-man, six-woman jury deciding Shepherd’s guilt. Heller will sentence Shepherd if she’s convicted.

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

Heller started Wednesday’s proceedings by reading the jurors instructions that included they cannot go by the scene of the accident and if they have to drive by it, they cannot stop and investigate it.

Marrs opened Wednesday by telling jurors this is a straightforward case that comes down to a very simple thing – the defendant’s reckless actions. He said it was dark out, but a clear morning. Marrs also said the evidence will show that Shepherd ‘s pickup truck struck the children, that she passed a school bus, that she had seen a large object in the road but didn’t brake, and that everyone else on the roadway saw the school bus. He accused Shepherd of “staying on the gas.”

Marrs presented jurors with a poster-board size definition of reckless as “defined as the state of mind where a person deliberately and unjustifiably pursues a course of action while consciously disregarding any risks flowing from such action.”

Marrs said her behavior was conscious, “it’s a freakin’ bus,” her behavior was unjustifiable, “she wasn’t distracted, she wasn’t on her phone.”

“You can’t do that. You can’t drive like that,” Marrs said, adding “these kids are dead, and Maverik is seriously injured.”

Newman said the morning of the accident was a different routine than usual for Shepherd in that she had to take her husband to work that day, something she normally doesn’t do, and her 12-year-old brother had also stayed the night with her because their father was having bypass surgery the next day. He told jurors after her husband was at work, Shepherd took the wheel, sent a text to her mother and put her phone away.

Her two children were asleep in their carseats in the backseat with her brother seated in the middle between them. She had driven about three miles south on Ind. 25, Newman said. He also told jurors that Ind. 25 is a common road of travel for tractors and that the road is winding.

He told jurors that Shepherd approached that vehicle and suddenly children were right in front of her. Immediately after, Newman said, Shepherd tried to call 911 but could not get through, so she called her husband, then called Brittany Thompson – a friend and Fulton County 911 dispatcher – to alert her of the emergency.

Tragic Accident

“This is a tragic accident. We have to fairly try this case,” Newman said. He said he thinks this case is unique from a legal perspective because both sides agree on the facts: Shepherd was driving, there was no braking, she wasn’t on her phone and that she consented for police to draw her blood and that there was no alcohol or drugs present in her system.

“What will be in dispute is what those facts actually show. She simply didn’t know it was a school bus. Our position is none of her actions were reckless. Negligent, yes,” Newman said. “We’re going to simply and logically explain to you why you should find Alyssa not guilty on all counts.”

Mother Testifies

The state’s first witness was Brittany Ingle, the mother of Alivia, Mason and Xzavier. She said the family had moved to the mobile home park on Ind. 25 in May 2012 after the twins were born, and that at the time of the accident the children were in fourth grade and first grade at Mentone Elementary School.

Ingle talked about the morning of Oct. 30 and how they had gotten up at 6:40 a.m, that her husband Shane Ingle had already left for work and that Alivia, who usually sleeps in, was already up, dressed and had eaten cereal. She was excited to get to school after being out sick for a couple of days. She was going to make a candy project at school, the mother said.

Brittany Ingle’s oldest daughter, Selena, had a doctor appointment that day and was staying home. Brittany Ingle testified that she went to her bedroom to grab a sweatshirt and told Selena to watch the children walk to the bus stop through the kitchen window.

“It was 7:12 and all I heard was screams,” Brittany Ingle said when she went to get her sweatshirt and looked at her alarm clock.

“I panicked, I just ran, I thought maybe somebody rearended the bus. I flew out there, no hoodie, no socks, but I knew the bus was out there because the strobe lights up my whole hearth,” she said.

“I started to run and I heard people say ‘call 911!’ and as I turned around the corner I saw my neighbor have my son Mason in his arms, and then I saw two boys laying in the middle of the road. I noticed it was Xzavier by his Paw Patrol backpack,” Brittany Ingle said. She said she started checking pulses and then she heard someone yell, “There’s two more over here, and then I think, ‘Where’s my daughter?’”

She said she went running and found Alivia.

“I looked down and I see her, she had on purple gloves and her favorite shirt and I saw blood running from underneath her, and I told her that I love her and to hold on,” she said, asking when your kids are laying all over the place, how do you save them all? “You can’t,” she said.

She said she thought she felt a faint pulse on Alivia and when she looked up she saw her boys were getting covered up with a sheet.

“So I ran over and I ripped the sheet off because they didn’t even try (to save them) it felt like and then they started covering Alivia up and by the time I realized my kids were gone, you want to find out who did it,” she said.

The state’s next witness was Fulton County Sheriff’s Det. Sgt. Travis Heishman who testified that he was one of the first responders at the scene and also took aerial photos with a drone. The state used that aerial photo throughout the day.

Following Shepherd

Maggie Harding, 18, was called next by the state and said she was driving behind Shepherd’s Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Harding told jurors she was taking her 15-year-old brother to Rochester Middle School and that she recognized the school bus. She testified that she started slowing down, but the Tacoma did not.

“When everything happened, I pulled to a stop, my brother was crying, I rolled down the window and I was screaming. I saw the truck hit the kids,” she said.

Bus Driver Testifies

Next, jurors heard from Robert Reid, the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation bus driver who was driving bus 36 that day. He testified he’d been driving that route for about five months and on that morning the bus was operating normally.

Reid said he begins his route at about 6:50 a.m. every morning and had three stops before the trailer park and that two children were on the bus when he got to the trailer park. He said as he’s driving, his yellow morning lights are on and just before he stops he deploys his red lights and his stop sign. He also said his strobe light on top of the bus was on.

Reid said as he stopped he looked ahead and could see a vehicle in the far distance. He also said he waved the kids across the road but could not see how many kids there were because it was dark. Reid testified that everyone around him came to a complete stop and that he just knew the vehicle was a far distance. He said when he waves the children across, that’s the universal way to tell them it’s ok to come, otherwise they stay where they’re at.

Reid said after he waved them across, he realized the vehicle was not stopping. Through tears, Reid testified that he “started honking the horn. I honked my horn until impact, then next I called signal three and 911 and got out of the bus.” He said he waited for police to arrive and that he did not look when the children were struck, he kept his head forward, honking the horn.

Reid also told jurors he’s been driving a bus since 2016 and he’s only had two or three incidents where vehicles disregarded the bus stop sign and that those incidents were always in the afternoon, never the mornings.

Tuszynski asked Reid if the bus headlights alternate flashing as the same red lights or are the headlights of the bus alternating between regular and high-beams. Reid said they flash from regular to high-beams. Arndt asked Reid how long it takes the children to cross and board the bus, to which Reid said about one minute.

Reid said the day after the accident TVSC changed his route to turn off Ind. 25 and pick up the children on a street inside the mobile home park.

Truck Driver

Was Behind Bus

Jurors next heard from Hobart Wheeler, a man who was driving a 26-foot freightliner for a Greenfield company and traveling behind the school bus that morning. He testified he had no difficulty identifying the vehicle in front of him as a school bus. When he approached it, and as it came to a stop, he creeped up behind it, kind of veered to the center line to be able to see a little bit, and stopped.

Wheeler said his window was halfway down and he could hear children laughing and talking over by the mobile home park fence where they wait for the bus. He said he saw the children approach the road and then he saw lights coming around the curve traveling about 60 mph he estimates.

“The kids walked out, and within about a second, I didn’t believe the vehicle was gonna stop. I felt nervous,” he said. He said when the vehicle impacted the children, he jumped out of his vehicle and didn’t know what to do but started yelling “kids have been hit!” to try to wake the people up in the trailer park. Wheeler said he called 911 and approached Shepherd’s truck.

“What Did I Hit?”

“I thought it was a drunk driver. I walked up to the truck, she stopped a ways away,” he said. “And as I made it up to the truck, the driver’s door opens up and a young lady, a girl gets out, and she said, ‘What did I hit?’ and I just threw my hands up and said ‘You just ran over kids! You probably killed them all!’ Then she looked at me about half a second, then got back in the vehicle.”

Wheeler said Shepherd was “real nonchalant, she wasn’t smiling but she wasn’t upset because she didn’t know what she hit.” He said he then walked back to the boy who was lying in the ditch.

Victim Testifies

Next, 12-year-old Maverik Lowe entered the courtroom using a walker and took the stand. He saids he was a sixth-grader at the time of the accident and remembers it was really dark out that morning but he saw the bus coming. He testified he crossed the road with Mason, Xzavier and Alivia and then he saw two headlights.

“I was scared to do anything,” Lowe said. “The headlights were pretty close. I remember waking up and rolling myself over, I couldn’t breathe. I was like in a ditch area next to the fence.” Lowe said the next thing he remembers was being taken by helicopter to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne.

He stayed there 30 days. Lowe told jurors he broke almost every single bone from the knee down, injured his spine and had scrapes on his head. He’s had 21 surgeries, he testified, with the most recent being knee replacement three weeks ago. He’s also does physical therapy and has a chipped tooth from the accident.

911 Call Played

Jurors then heard from Fulton County 911 Dispatcher Krista Sutton, who said she’s been a dispatcher for 21 years. The state then played a recording of the 911 call that came into Sutton, and heard a distressed Joanna Kegley screaming “Oh my God! Kids have been hit by a truck! I hate this freaking highway!”

Sutton dispatched first responders to the scene at 7:16 a.m. The 911 call came in at 7:15:25, the incident occurred at 7:14:45, and medics arrived at 7:21, the call report reflected. At 7:54 a.m., Shepherd gave consent for a blood draw.

Heishman told jurors that when he arrived at the scene he was told two boys were deceased in the road and he covered them with a sheet. Then he was told Alivia had passed, so he covered her with a sheet, then began working the scene by taking photographs.

The courtroom was shown photos from the scene of the children lying in the roadway, with the sheets off of their bodies. Jurors asked Heishman if the skidmarks on Ind. 25 that are seen in the photographs were from Shepherd’s truck, to which Heishman said no, they were present prior to this incident.

Crime Scene Investigator Testifies

Indiana State Police Sgt. Lamar Helmuth then took the stand and told jurors he’s been a crime scene investigator since 2006 and has worked about 650 crime scenes.

He was called out of his Bremen ISP post at 8:45 a.m. that day to take aerial photos from the ISP helicopter that flew to Rochester from Indianapolis. Helmuth said he arrived at the scene around 10 a.m. and the victims were still lying where they came to rest, until the coroner took possession of the bodies around 11 or 11:30 a.m.

He said he helped load the vitims and place them in body bags. Marrs asked him what it was like to bag bodies. Helmuth told jurors it’s a very strict process of tagging the bags so as to make sure the chain of custody of the bodies is not tampered with.

Truck Damaged

Helmuth then testified that the Tacoma pickup truck was towed to the Peru ISP Post to be processed and that nearly all of the airbags in the truck had gone off.

He said he had to cut the airbags to be able to collect evidence, however, he collected no evidence from inside the truck. The truck had significant front-end damage, he said, including the hood was buckled up, the radiator damaged and leaking and a headlight missing. He testified the distance between the back of the bus to the truck at the crime scene was 117 feet.

He said the contact damage to the truck included finding fluids on the front end that was most likely saliva, and that two gouges in the paint are believed to be from Mason’s teeth “because he was missing teeth and there was blood spatter in that area.”

The family of the children were sobbing during this testimony.

Accident Reconstructed

Jason Page, ISP Sergeant and crime scene investigator for 19 years, reconstructed the accident on May 26 using video. Page told jurors they used the exact same school bus that was in the accident, put the school bus in the exact same location, and also used the same year, make and model of truck Shepherd was driving. A FCSD deputy was driving, and Page was filming. He told jurors they started the video when conditions were similar to that morning, around 9 p.m. that night, and drove 60 mph. The video was played for the courtroom.

Tuszynski asked Page if a commercial vehicle was behind the school bus or if another vehicle was behind the Tacoma for his reconstruction video, to which Page said there was not.

The defense will start calling their witnesses at 8:30 a.m. today.