Man accused in church van wreck indicted
The man accused of causing a wreck that killed two people on a church van last September has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Knoxville on 14 counts of criminal activity in an unrelated investigation.
Tyler Schaeffer, 21, of Seymour was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, seven counts of Hobbs Act robbery, four counts of brandishing a firearm during a robbery, one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methylone, and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
In that same indictment, Rodney James Ruffin, 21, of Sevierville was charged with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, one count of Hobbs Act robbery, and one count of brandishing a firearm during a robbery. Jerel Bray-Shawn Johnson, 20, of Knoxville was charged in the conspiracies to commit Hobbs Act robbery and to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methylone, as well as two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, and two counts of brandishing a firearm during a robbery.
Johnson appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr. on Wednesday and entered pleas of not guilty to all charges. Trial is set for May 14.
Schaeffer was charged last year with causing the deaths of two church members and injuries to several more when the vehicle he was driving collided with the church van on Chapman Highway Sept. 16. Schaeffer allegedly was high on bath salts when his vehicle crossed the center line and slammed into the van.
Schaeffer reportedly was on probation from a previous incident at the time of the accident, and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office had an active warrant for his arrest at the time of the wreck. He has been jailed in Sevier County under $2 million bond.
He and the other two defendants newly indicted by a federal grand jury face mandatory minimum terms in prison for the firearm offenses. Schaeffer faces not less than 107 years in prison, Johnson not less than 32 years, and Ruffin not less than seven years. They each face additional prison time for the robberies and drug trafficking crimes, which must be served consecutively to the prison time imposed for the firearm offenses. There is no parole in the federal system.
The Hobbs Act is a federal statute that prohibits robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. It was enacted as a statute to combat racketeering in labor-management disputes, but its application has been broadened since it became law in 1946.
The indictment is the result of an investigation by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, which includes members of the Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff’s Office; District Attorney General James B. Dunn; Tennessee Highway Patrol; Sevier County Sheriff’s Office; and Alcoa Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracy L. Stone and Kelly A. Norris will prosecute.
An indictment constitutes only charges, not guilt.