Prosecutors drop manslaughter charge in Lansdowne crash that killed baby

LEESBURG, Va. — Loudoun County, Virginia prosecutors have dropped the involuntary manslaughter charge Tuesday against the driver in the 2016 crash that killed 5-month-old Tristan Schulz.

John Miller IV was indicted last November on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and failure to yield right of way to a pedestrian.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman told the judge Tuesday “the decision does not come lightly — it has weighed heavily on me,” but said the evidence does not support a charge of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.

Miller will face a reckless driving charge when he goes on trial in October. If convicted, he could face up to a year in jail.

“Sometimes the right decision is not the most politically popular one,” Plowman told the judge.

WTOP reported Friday that Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan filed a motion concluding prosecutors could not prove Miller’s actions showed the reckless disregard of human life needed for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

“Reckless driving and a fatality do not equal manslaughter,” Plowman said. “It’s important to highlight the differing degrees of negligence.”

Circuit Court Judge Stephen Sincavage granted the prosecution motion to drop the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Outside the courtroom, Plowman and Miller’s attorneys Steven Webster and Aaron Book declined comment.

Earlier, Plowman and Webster would not say whether Miller would eventually plead guilty to the lesser charges as part of a plea agreement.

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Failure to yield right of way to a pedestrian is a traffic infraction, which would result in a fine.

Prosecutors allege Miller’s inattention and actions behind the wheel led him to hit Schulz Aug. 31, 2016, as his mother, Mindy, pushed his stroller across Riverside Parkway at Coton Manor Drive. Mindy Schulz was severely injured, but recovered.

At least one witness told prosecutors he saw Miller looking at his phone at the time of the crash.

Miller was indicted before his phone underwent a thorough forensic investigation.

Plowman told the judge “examinations on this phone were unparalleled,” including testing on a clone phone and input from the phone manufacturer and Miller’s carrier.

According to Plowman, there was “no direct human engagement with the phone” at the time of the crash.

Miller’s attorneys have called the crash “a tragic accident.” He remains free before trial.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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