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Charges 'pending' against SUV driver in fatal church van crash

7:12 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
  • Tyler James Schaeffer
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Officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Safety said Monday that "charges are pending" against the driver of an SUV that collided head-on with a church van.

Two members of the Cedar Grove Baptist Church were killed Sunday morning when their van was hit by a Chevy Blazer driven by 21-year-old Tyler James Schaeffer of Seymour.

The two church members who died in the crash are 45-year-old Jeff Trussell of Maryville and 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski of Seymour.   Trussell served as Youth Director at the church and was driving the van during the crash.

Ten other passengers in the van were transported to UT Medical Center and Children's Hospital.  As of Monday night, six have been treated and released.  Four remain at UT Medical Center where they are recovering from injuries ranging from broken bones to facial lacerations, according to Cedar Grove Baptist Church pastor Bobby Lynch.

Schaeffer was flown to UT Medical Center.  Hospital officials said he was listed as "no information" status, meaning a request has been made to hospital staff to avoid making his medical condition or location public.

Sergeant Randall Martin with the Tennessee Highway Patrol said to his knowledge Schaeffer was in critical condition at UT Medical Center.  Martin said Schaeffer was injured too badly for a field sobriety test.  A toxicology report has been ordered and Martin said a container with a "powdery substance was found on his [Schaeffer's] person" when he was admitted to UT Medical Center.

"Everything from that has been processed into evidence and subsequently sent off to the TBI lab for analysis," said Martin.  "Our troopers are meeting with prosecutors to go over the evidence and discuss possible charges."

Department of Safety spokesperson Dalya Qualls confirmed Monday that charges are "pending" against Schaeffer.  The exact charges will be determined once a toxicology report is complete.  Those reports can sometimes take several weeks, depending on the backlog at the TBI lab.

Schaeffer has a past criminal history in both Knox County and Blount County. Records show he pleaded guilty to various robbery and burglary charges dating back to June 2010.  Between both counties, Schaeffer spent a total of about six months in Tennessee Department of Corrections custody.

A judge revoked Schaffer's probation in August 2011 and he spent time in a state boot camp until April of this year.  Schaeffer is listed as actively serving probation.

Coworkers and Classmates Mourn

The deaths of Trussell and Kaliszewski impacted coworkers, classmates, and the overall community throughout Monday.

Kaliszewski was a student at Seymour High School.  Mourners placed a cross at the site of Sunday's crash in her honor.  Assistant superintendent Debra Cline with the Sevier County School System issued the following statement:

"The school family at Seymour High School is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Courteney Kaliszewski on Sunday, September 16, 2012. We extend our sympathy, thoughts, and concern to Courteney's family at this difficult time. Courteney was a gentle, kind, and caring individual whose influence will continue to positively impact our lives. Our care and concern also go out to others involved in the accident."

Coworkers of Jeff Trussell at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. told 10News they were shocked and saddened to learn of his death.  The company declined on-camera interviews in order to allow coworkers "time to heal," but issued the following public statement via email:

"We at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. were saddened by the loss yesterday of one of our Knoxville employees, Jeff Trussell. We offer our condolences to Jeff's family and others involved in the accident. Our thoughts are with them during this tragic time."

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