Tyler Schaeffer sentenced in 2012 church van crash

A judge sentenced the driver who crashed into a church van on Chapman Highway in 2012 to forty years behind bars.

Tyler Schaeffer (Courtesy: Sevier Co. Sheriff's Dept.)

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A judge sentenced the driver who crashed into a church van on Chapman Highway in 2012 to forty years behind bars.

Tyler Schaeffer crashed into the Cedar Grove Baptist Church van head on, killing the driver, 45-year-old Jeffery Trussell and a passenger, 16-year-old Courtney Kaliszewski. Schaeffer was on the way to a drug deal at the time.

Schaeffer is already in prison, serving a 100 year sentence for a previous crime.

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A federal judge has sentenced Tyler Schaeffer, 22, to 100 years in prison and ordered him to pay more than $5,000 in restitution.

A jury convicted Schaeffer in May 2013 on three counts of brandishing a firearm during three robberies of businesses. And because those businesses engage in interstate commerce, Schaeffer violated the federal Hobbs Act.

In April 2013, Schaeffer pleaded guilty seven armed robberies, as well as methylone trafficking, that occurred between July 2010 and September 2012.

During his sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors argued Schaeffer was using and selling bath salts, and was on his way to another drug deal when he crashed into a church van on Chapman Highway on September 16, 2012, killing the driver, 45-year-old Jeffery Trussell and a passenger, 16-year-old Courtney Kaliszewski.

The judge ruled that the evidence did show Schaeffer was on his way to a drug deal when the crash happened, which meant he could be sentenced to more prison time.

Following that ruling, the Trussel and Kaliszewski families gave emotional victim impact statements, describing how Schaeffer has forever changed their lives through his actions.

Both families say they're happy about Schaeffer's 100 year sentence.

"No sentencing, no amount of punishment can bring Jeff and Courtney back. But it does give us a little peace of mind and closure to know that this can't happen to another family by the same person again," said Kim Trussell, Jeff Trussell's wife.

"Thrilled - over the moon and back because then nobody else - nobody else will have to endure what we've endured. Nobody should have to bury their baby," said Nany Kaliszewski, Courtney's mother.

Schaeffer's mother, Rhonda Hickey, also gave a statement, apologizing for her son's actions and saying it has affected her family, too.

"But I understand that there is justice in this for the families. But my heart is breaking too," said Hickey.

Two of Schaeffer's accomplices, Jerel Bray-Sean Johnson, 20, and Rodney James Ruffin, 22, also pleaded guilty to robbery, drug trafficking and firearms charges. Sentencing for Johnson is scheduled for May 2, 2014. Ruffin is scheduled to be sentenced on Apr.16, 2014.

Schaeffer is also facing unrelated vehicular homicide charges for causing a crash that killed Trussell and Kaliszewski.

Federal investigators say Schaeffer will be returned to Sevier County authorities to stand trial on those charges.


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