Family of infant killed in Va. crosswalk tells court of grief, devastation

LEESBURG, Va. — In a Loudoun County courtroom on Wednesday, the parents of a 5-month-old who was fatally hit by an SUV tried to put their grief into words.

Tristan Schulz was killed Aug. 31, 2016, as his mother Mindy pushed him in a stroller across a Lansdowne street. They were in the crosswalk when John Miller slammed into them with his Jeep Cherokee. She was seriously injured.

“I am traumatized again and again,” Mindy Schulz said during Wednesday’s portion of Miller’s sentencing hearing. “I literally never get to escape this hellish prison that Mr. Miller has sentenced me to.”

While a manslaughter charge in the case was dropped, Miller pleaded no contest this fall to a reckless driving charge. That carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

“My baby had been reduced to roadkill,” Schulz said. “The realization of what would never be thundered in my heart.”

No first steps, she said. No first words. No first birthday.

“I don’t remember how it feels to be truly happy,” she said. “He killed my child. Miller killed Tristan in front of me.”

Dozens of supporters of the Schulz family wore baby blue ribbons, flowers or shirts in the courtroom Wednesday. They put up signs and ribbons elsewhere too — including one over Virginia Route 7 reading “Tristan forever.” Miller had about two dozen supporters in the courtroom as well.

Mindy Schulz is expected to speak for at least another hour Thursday morning before final arguments, an opportunity for Miller to address the court, and a final sentencing decision.

Miller’s lawyers have requested probation. They argue he could not see Mindy and Tristan Schulz due to the layout of his car and the intersection.

“I wonder how he can possibly say he didn’t see us. … Had Miller been paying attention to his surroundings, it is extremely hard to believe,” said Schulz, who added that Miller never slowed down.

“Everything I’ve known, relied on and trusted in myself has been destroyed,” Schulz said.

Family pushes for jail time

Other members of the Schulz family underlined the continuing grief and devastation that they believe should lead to jail time.

Rod Schulz described his wife — a former triathlete and black belt — as a shell of herself due to injuries that have kept her from many of her favorite activities. She suffered a concussion, which has since made it difficult for her to focus or read; post-traumatic stress; severe leg injuries; and broken ribs.

“That person was shattered and torn asunder and rendered a ghost of who she once was,” he said.

The devastating impact on the couple’s older son, still in elementary school, was also a significant focus. “It has taken his innocence, it has taken his childhood, it has taken his very sanity,” Rod Schulz said.

A grandparent said he felt at fault for Tristan’s death, because he wasn’t there to protect him. Aunts and uncles said they now hug their kids like it could be the last time, as they realize they are not really in control.

Miller met with the Schulzes in the fall. But on Wednesday, they said they are not satisfied with his apology.

“Not once has Miller ever taken responsibility for the hell he’s created or the lives he’s destroyed,” Mindy Schulz said. “Our son did not matter to this man at all.”

Two pieces of Tristan’s heart live on, his parents said, in two baby girls who were able to survive thanks to heart valve transplants after his death.

A parent losing a child is like having a soul ripped apart, each Schulz said.

‘I felt the moment I failed’

“We did not lose our son. He didn’t ‘pass on.’ … There was a 4,700-pound SUV that was collided into an 18-pound infant,” Rod Schulz said. “There’s no justice that could possibly be found for ending my son’s 5-month life.”

Despite help and compassion from the community, the father said it remains difficult to go out. “You’re approached as if you have some kind of disease,” he said.

The Schulz family lives just a few hundred feet from Miller, so they regularly pass his house and must go through the intersection where Tristan was killed.

“I tried so hard to hold onto the stroller. To pull back. To save him,” Mindy Schulz said through tears. “I felt the moment I wasn’t strong enough to save my baby. I felt the moment I failed ultimately as his mother.”

The mother said she can “still see the moment” when everything changed.

“It was like the darkness of hell swooped in on me,” she said. “Absolute terror and despair.”

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