Driver in fatal church van crash sentenced to 100 years

The man accused of killing two people in a 2012 church van crash while high on bath salts will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Judge Thomas A. Varlan sentenced Tyler Schaeffer to 100 years in prison on 14 counts of federal robbery, drug, and gun charges. The series of armed robberies in Knox, Sevier, and Blount Counties ranged from July 26, 2010 and September 14, 2012. The final robbery happened just two days before the church van crash.

In court Monday, prosecutors linked the church van crash to the final leg of the crime spree. Text messages showed Schaeffer was on his was to a drug deal when he crashed his SUV into the Cedar Grove Baptist van. Prosecutors said he was going to sell drugs he had stolen two days before and had not slept in the meantime.

MORE: DA: Schaeffer was high on bath salts during crash

A TBI lab analyst said his blood had the highest level of bath salts most analysts in the lab had ever seen.

The Cedar Grove Youth Group was returning from a weekend retreat in Gatlinburg when authorities say Schaeffer crossed Chapman Highway and hit the van head on. The fiery crash killed Courtney Kaliszewski,16, and youth leader Jeff Trussell,45, and injured 10 other youth group members.

Even though Schaeffer has not gone to trial for the crash, Judge Varlan allowed the cross reference and took the victim's impact statements into account when making his sentencing decision.

"Not a day, hour, minute goes by that I don't imagine pulling my father's corpse out of a burning van," said Dylan Trussell, 21, Jeff's son. Dylan and his mom, Kim, were driving in a caravan with the youth group. Their car was directly behind the van involved in the crash.

"Tyler gave me a life sentence," said Trussell's wife, Kim, " A life sentence I did not ask for."

Before his sentencing, Shaeffer told the judge he knew he had thrown away many opportunities to turn his life around. Before the crash, Schaeffer was under a sentence for armed robbery and other vehicular charges.

"I am sorry," Schaeffer told the families. "I hope one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

"He said he was sorry, and he is 'sorry,' but I don't find him to be apologetic," said Chuck Jones, a van crash survivor's father.

The family said they found his inappropriate laughter and constant communication with people in the audience throughout his hearing and trial disrespectful.

Courtney Kaliszewski's mom, Nancy, showed Schaeffer a picture of her daughter.

"I wanted him to make sure he had a picture of her to see what he took. Not just from me, not just from her father, but from the whole town of Seymour. Our community is broken and I don't know if it will ever be the same," said Nancy Kaliszewski.

Schaffer still faces state vehicular manslaughter charges in the deaths. District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said he will continue to pursue the charges.

Kim Trussell said she is hoping he will plead guilty so their families do not have to testify again.

His 100-year sentence comes without the possibility of parole.


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