Driver pleads ‘no contest’ to misdemeanor charge in Lansdowne crash that killed baby

LEESBURG, Va. — The driver whose SUV killed 5-month-old Tristan Schulz in a 2016 crash in Lansdowne, Virginia, was found guilty of misdemeanor reckless driving, but didn’t say the words family friends and supporters of the Schulz family hoped to hear.

John Miller IV, of Leesburg, spoke quietly as he entered a “no contest” plea to reckless driving, and admitted guilt to a traffic infraction.

After accepting the “no contest” plea, in which a defendant neither disputes nor admits a crime, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Sincavage found Miller guilty.

Tristan was killed on Aug. 31, 2016, as his mother pushed his stroller across Riverside Parkway at Coton Manor Drive. Mindy Schulz was severely injured but has recovered.

Miller, 46, entered the pleas without a deal with prosecutors, which means the judge will determine his sentence. The date of the sentencing hearing will be determined Friday.

Asked why Miller chose to enter a “no contest” plea, rather than publicly verbalize his guilt in the crash that killed the baby boy, defense attorney Steven Webster declined to comment.

Miller could face a civil suit, in addition to his criminal case.

In September, prosecutors dropped the most serious charge against Miller — involuntary manslaughter — when it became clear that evidence did not support the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor, and Miller faces up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Failure to yield the right of way is a traffic infraction, which could result in a $250 fine.

Tristan’s parents Mindy and Rod sat in the front row during the plea hearing, accompanied by family members. They left the courthouse without comment.

Some supporters carried T-shirts reading “Tristan Matters” and “Drive Safe — Save a life for Tristan.”

Outside the courthouse, several supporters of the Schulz family said Miller has shown little regard for the grieving family.

“I can’t comment on what the (Schulz) family believes, or what’s in (Miller’s) head, but I do think everything about John Miller is what’s best for John Miller,” said Anna Thorner. “An apology would have been nice — at any time.”

Miller’s attorneys, Steven Webster and Aaron Book, have maintained their client is remorseful.

“The course of legal proceedings is generally dictated by lawyers and should not be interpreted as a lack of remorse,” said Webster, in response to a WTOP question.

“John is remorseful every single day and has offered to meet with the family in order to apologize to them personally, rather than through the media,” Webster said. “That offer has not yet been accepted, but he is hopeful he may someday have that opportunity.”

Webster said the offer was extended months ago, through prosecutors.

Miller’s attorneys and Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman have not disclosed what sentences they will seek.

Schulz family friends Dale and Elizabeth Freeman told reporters they are dissatisfied with the way the prosecutors have handled the case, and maintain jurors should have been able to consider the involuntary manslaughter count.

“Too much attention was paid to the phone,” said Dale Freeman. “If you eliminate the cellphone from the equation, there was still, according to eyewitnesses, evidence of wanton, reckless behavior.”

Testing of Miller’s cellphone determined that he did not use the phone before or during the crash. He used it afterward to call 911.

Candy Baracat-Donovan, another Schulz family friend, said despite the possibility Miller will avoid substantial jail time, supporters will continue to remind the public of Tristan.

“Justice, as we hoped for it to be served, that may not happen in this case,” she said.

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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