Driver in Lansdowne crash that killed baby argues against jail time

WASHINGTON — The driver whose SUV struck and killed a 5-month-old in a Lansdowne, Virginia, intersection in 2016 is arguing that he shouldn’t be sentenced to prison.

Lawyers for John Miller IV, of Leesburg, argued in court papers filed Friday that he should be sentenced to probation, a fine and community service in the death of Tristan Schulz, who along with his mother, Mindy Schulz, was hit by Miller’s vehicle on Riverside Parkway at Coton Manor Drive Aug. 31, 2016. She was badly injured but has recovered.

In documents filed with the court Friday, Miller and his lawyers called the events of that morning “a tragic accident.” The argument boils down to three contentions: that, contrary to early speculation, Miller wasn’t on his phone at the time; the intersection was a dangerous one, and that Miller never saw Mindy or Tristan Schulz as they crossed the road and he turned left onto it.

Miller pleaded no contest to, and was found guilty of, a charge of reckless driving, and pleaded guilty to failure to yield. The most serious charge, of involuntary manslaughter, was dropped in September 2017. Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman said at the time that the decision “weighed heavily on me,” but the evidence didn’t support the charge.

In the documents filed Friday, Miller notes the dropping of the most serious charge and reiterated that speculation that Miller was using his cellphone as he was driving turned out to be false.

“To summarize the undisputed forensic evidence,” he wrote, “around the time of the accident, Mr. Miller did not call anyone; did not text anyone; did not read the text he had received earlier that day; did not access his email; did not access the internet browser; did not access his voicemail; and did not access any social media applications. Indeed, he did not access anything on the phone at all.”

He said that while “some in the community” continue to believe cellphone use was a factor, “quite simply, they are wrong.”

Miller further argued that the fact that eyewitnesses didn’t see his brake lights turn on during the accident was evidence he didn’t see the Schulzes, and that the intersection was dangerous. Shortly after the accident, the Virginia Department of Transportation changed the traffic light to give pedestrians a head start across the parkway.

He also said that his view was obscured by what is known as the A-pillar of his vehicle — the structural beam of the car between the windshield and driver’s-side window, which can create a blind spot on left turns.

The documents go on to say that Miller, 47, a golf instructor, has no prior criminal record and is the sole caretaker for his wife, who suffers from neuralgia and had a brain aneurysm, as well as helping his father, who has cancer.

“Mr. Miller … prays for [the Schulzes] every day,” the document reads, adding that he has met with the family to apologize. “However, there has been no reconciliation. Although the Schulz family is understandably angry and upset, neither specific nor general deterrence justify a jail sentence on the particular facts of this case.”

The sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday.

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