An Indiana appeals court vacated Alyssa Shepherd’s misdemeanor conviction of reckless driving but upheld her felony convictions for the deaths of three students and the serious injury of a fourth after illegally passing a stopped Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation school bus nearly two years ago.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on Sept. 14 that the misdemeanor conviction constituted double jeopardy because Shepherd was also convicted on three counts of felony reckless homicide and one count of felony criminal recklessness. The ruling acknowledged that the reckless driving charge was “based on the same act of recklessly driving past the stopped school bus” that killed twin brothers Mason and Xzavier Ingle, 6, their stepsister Alivia Stahl, 9, and seriously injured Maverik Lowe, who was 11 at the time.
The decision written by Judge Patricia Riley determined that despite the technicality, Shepherd “acted in conscious disregard of the harm that may result” in passing the stopped school bus on State Road 25 in rural Rochester County, despite not being impaired or intoxicated at the time.s
The court noted that Shepherd should have been aware that her actions could lead to harm, as she was driving her brother to school, had passed a “Watch for School Bus” sign warning of a stop location that had existed for 50 years, and did not attempt to brake before striking the students. Additionally, the motorist following Shepherd recognized the school bus with its stop-arm extended and red lights flashing and came to a stop.
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The appellate court rejected an argument made by Shepherd’s attorneys that the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting proposed instruction to the jury that “evidence of inadvertence, lack of attention, forgetfulness, thoughtlessness, or error of judgment” may not support a charge of criminal recklessness.
But Judge Riley, with Judge Robert R. Altice, Jr., and Judge Melissa May concurring, also ruled that Shepherd’s trial court did not have the authority to impose consecutive driver’s license suspensions and ordered a new concurrent sentence be imposed.
Shepherd is currently serving four years in prison and will follow with three years of house arrest and three years of probation.