Driver who crashed head-on with a church van pleads not guilty to unrelated charges
From Staff Reports
KNOXVILLE — The man accused of crashing head-on with a church van last September pleaded not guilty to unrelated burglary and weapons charges in U.S. District Court in Knoxville Tuesday morning.
Tyler James Schaeffer, 21, was driving an SUV that crashed head-on with the van of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville that killed 45-year-old youth pastor Jeff Trussell and 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski, who was a student at Seymour High School. Several other youth were also injured in the crash.
Schaffer was arrested on robbery charges as soon as he was released from the hospital after the crash, in which he was allegedly high on bath salts. He is being held in the Sevier County Jail.
Schaeffer waives right to hearing
He waived his right to a hearing Tuesday for the judge to determine if he would have to remain in jail pending the May 14 trial date for the burglary charges. He also qualified for a public defender.
A federal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment earlier this month against Schaeffer and his accomplices.
Schaeffer was indicted on seven counts of robbery, one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, four counts of brandishing a firearm during a robbery, one count of conspiracy to distribute methylone and one count of possessing a firearm in a drug-trafficking crime.
Also charged in the same indictment were Jerel Bray-Shawn Johnson, 20, Knoxville, and Rodney James Ruffin, 21, Sevierville.
Johnson was charged with the robbery and intent to distribute methylone conspiracies, two counts of robbery and two counts of brandishing a firearm during a robbery.
Ruffin was charged with the same robbery and methylone distribution conspiracies, as well as one count of brandishing a firearm.
All the robbery charges were listed as Hobbs Act robbery, which includes both robbery and extortion charges.
Series of robberies
According to the indictment, between July 26, 2010, and Sept. 14, 2012, Schaeffer allegedly robbed two Subway restaurants in Knoxville and Seymour, the Mayra Moreno Insurance on Alcoa Highway in Louisville, a Dollar General Store in Seymour, the Romantic Escapades business in Knoxville and a Kenjo Market in Knoxville.
Schaeffer faces no less than 107 years in prison, while Johnson will get no less than 32 years and Ruffin no less than seven years if convicted. They will face additional prison time if convicted of the robberies and drug-trafficking crimes, which must be served consecutively.
Schaeffer also faces multiple charges in the church van case, including vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular assault, DUI and drug charges.
Kim Trussell, widow of Jeff Trussell, and their son Dylan were present in the courtroom Tuesday morning, along with other members of the Cedar Grove Church.