Driver in church van crash makes first court appearance

Driver in church van crash makes first court appearance

Posted:
Tyler Schaeffer (center) appeared in Sevier County Criminal Court for the hearing. Tyler Schaeffer (center) appeared in Sevier County Criminal Court for the hearing.

By DREW GARDNER
6 News Reporter

SEVIERVILLE (WATE) - The man accused of crashing his SUV into a church van and killing two people made his first court appearance Monday.

Tyler Schaeffer appeared in Sevier County Criminal Court for an arraignment hearing on the several charges he faces. They include vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and DUI.

Youth pastor Jeff Trussell and 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski were killed in September when their van from Cedar Grove Baptist Church was hit head on. Ten other passengers were in the van at the time of the crash.

Tennessee Highway Patrol investigators say Schaeffer was at the wheel of the Chevrolet Blazer that slammed into the church van on Chapman Highway near Zion Hill Church Road.

On Monday, the front rows of the courtroom were filled with friends and family of the victims.

"We just felt like we all had to come today to be here for Jeff and Courtney," said Pastor Bob Lynch. "We knew it was only going to be an arraignment, but we felt like we needed to be here."

Schaeffer had been out of prison five months and was on probation at the time of the accident.

After he was treated for his injuries he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for burglary. Now he faces several more charges, including two counts of vehicular homicide.

Lynch says his congregation has only recently begun to heal as the other victims injured in the accident return to church.

"To see them come in on crutches, in their casts and being rolled in on wheelchairs reassured us that life goes on in spite of the loss of Jeff and Courtney," said Pastor Lynch.

Carrying on hasn't been easy for his congregation or Lynch himself.

"It was something I never want to live through again," said Pastor Lynch. "This happens someplace else and to somebody else not to us."

But unfortunately this court hearing only served as another reminder that it did happen and the victims and congregation will likely have to relive it again and again until the case is completed.

Schaeffer is being held in the Sevier County Jail on a $2 million bond.

During Monday's court appearance a date for a plea hearing was set for April 22.

In addition to criminal charges, Schaeffer faces civil lawsuits filed by Kaliszewski's parents and Trussell's wife totaling $10 million each.

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