Judge Hands Down Max Sentence in Baby Tristan’s Death

The driver who struck and killed an infant being pushed in a stroller through a Lansdowne crosswalk in 2016 today was sentenced to spend 12 months in jail, the maximum punishment permitted under state law.

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Douglas L. Fleming handed down the sentence, which also included $2,750 in fines, against John Miller IV following two days of heart-wrenching testimony by baby Tristan Schulz’s family, including remarkable moment-by-moment recollections by his parents Rodney and Mindy Schulz as they described the devastation experienced when and since their son was killed.

Last year, Miller pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless driving and guilty to failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk—both misdemeanors.

Fleming pointed to those pleas, as well as the emotional victim impact statements, in announcing the sentence.

By failing to contest the reckless driving charge, Fleming said Miller had admitted to driving conduct that included a disregard for public safety. That disregard on Aug. 31, 2016, Fleming said, resulted in the two most dire consequences possible—the death of one person and serious injuries to another, Tristan’s mother.

Those who drive recklessly without regard for the safety of others must understand that their liberty is at stake, Fleming said, adding that the year-long jail sentence should be viewed by others in the community as a cautionary lesson.

The maximum sentence had been requested by Commonwealths’ Attorney Jim Plowman. Even with that, he said, the pain experienced by the Schulz family was  beyond the reach of the justice system to relieve; the punishment options available were “hopelessly insufficient.”

Plowman said that even with a 12-month sentence, Miller would likely serve only 6 months because of early release policies for good behavior. He pointed out that those 182 days would equate to only a few more days than Tristan lived.

“This case has left everyone with the feeling of helplessness,” Plowman said.

Miller’s attorney, Steven Webster, asked Fleming not to impose jail time, but instead build a sentence of probation, mandated community service and a fine.

Both attorneys agreed that the evidence showed Miller did not see Tristan and his mother in the crosswalk. Plowman said Miller may have been accelerating to get ahead of another car turning into the intersection. Webster said Miller’s view of the crosswalk was likely obscured, either by a car in front of him or the Jeep Cherokee’s driver’s side A-pillar along the windshield, which has been cited by police research as a factor in pedestrian crashes involving left-hand turns.

Miller read a prepared statement to the judge. He said not a day goes by that he does not think about the accident and the Schulz family.

“Unfortunately, I did not see Mindy and Tristan in the crosswalk,” he said. “I wish I had an explanation, but I don’t.”

Miller said he and his wife plan to sell their house, in the same neighborhood as the Schulz family, and move away.

After the sentencing, family friend Anna Thorner said she felt “a lot emptier than I hoped I would feel.”

“I’m relieved that he got the maximum sentence that was allowable under the law,” Thorner said. “There’s no winning here, nobody left there feeling good, all of us were reduced to tears. At the end of the day, the suffering will go on and the baby is gone forever.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman speaks to the press outside the Loudoun County courthouse after John Miller’s sentencing. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Plowman said he believed this case shows a gap in the law. He had earlier in the case dropped a manslaughter charge against Miller, saying the evidence did not support the aggravating factors—such as cell phone use—required to prove that charge.

“In my opinion, there’s a gap between what’s required to prosecute a manslaughter case and the step down for reckless driving,” Plowman said. “And I think when you have a fatality involved, it warrants a different sentencing range available to the judge.”

The Schulz family did not make a public statement after the hearing, but Plowman relayed a message:

“They get no pleasure out of the sentencing today,” Plowman said. “There’s no celebration. They are just happy that there is finally accountability for Tristan’s death. But they’re not celebrating.”

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