DA: Man charged in church van crash was high on bath salts

6:29 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
  • Tyler Schaeffer
  • Jeff Trussell
  • Courtney Kaliszewski
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Sevier County District Attorney Jimmy Dunn says 21-year-old Tyler Schaeffer was high on a synthetic drug commonly known as bath salts when he collided head-on with a church van.

Schaeffer appeared in court Monday for charges related to the deaths of two people in that crash.

The wreck happened in September on Chapman Highway.  Authorities say Schaeffer was driving an SUV that crashed head-on into a Cedar Grove Baptist Church van.  They were returning to their Blount County church from a youth retreat in Gatlinburg.

The wreck killed youth leader Jeff Trussell and 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski. Ten others were injured.

Schaeffer appeared in court to be arraigned on dozens of charges, including vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular assault, DUI, and drug charges.

The family of Trussell and parents of many of the teens injured in the crash were in the courtroom.  The Kaliszewski family was absent because of an illness.

Cedar Grove Baptist Pastor Bob Lynch also attended.

He says the past two months were difficult for his congregation. One Sunday after the crash, four young adults attended church in wheelchairs.

But he says watching them heal physically has been healing for them all.

"When the kids started getting better, coming back to church, it began to heal us as we got a chance to see those kids walking on crutches," says Lynch. "It reassured us that life goes on in spite of the loss of Jeff and Courteney."

He says the widow of Jeff Trussell, Kim, has shown remarkable strength.

"She just got a smile and a story that  sort of envelopes everybody. She's a great, great person. Because of that she's  helped us heal," says Lynch.

Schaeffer told the judge Monday he could not afford an attorney and asked for one to be appointed.  A plea date has been set for April 22.

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