Schaeffer pleads guilty to federal charges

Series of robberies preceded Chapman Highway crash
May. 02, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

The man charged with causing a fiery, fatal wreck on Chapman Highway pleaded guilty this week to federal charges involving a series of robberies, including some that happened in Seymour and charges that could relate back to the wreck.

Tyler Schaeffer, 21, of Sevierville, has been in custody since his release from a local hospital following the Sept. 16 wreck that killed two people. Investigators say Schaeffer crossed the center line on Chapman Highway and collided head-on with a van filled with members of Cedar Grove Baptist Church.

The collision knocked the van off the road and ignited flames that forced rescuers away before they could get to two of the occupants. Courteney Kaliszewski, a 16-year-old Seymour High School student, died in the wreck, along with the van’s driver, 45-year-old Jeffrey Trussell.

Schaeffer is facing vehicular homicide and other charges stemming from that incident. However, federal authorities took Schaeffer into custody after charging him and two others in a string of armed robberies running from July 26, 2010 to last September. The robberies he confessed to committing include one on Aug. 11, 2012, at a Subway sub shop in Seymour.

“Schaeffer entered the Subway and went into the kitchen area of the restaurant, brandished a handgun and (demanded money),” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Norris wrote in a summary of the crimes Schaeffer admitted committing in entering his gauntly pleas. A few weeks later, on Sept. 5, 2012, he robbed a Dollar General Store in Seymour.

It’s the final set of crimes that could tie in to the collision. He admitted to going to the Sevierville home of a drug dealer who was distributing methylone, or “bath salts,” a synthetic drug with effects similar to meth.

Investigators have indicated the drug was found in his car after the wreck and believe he was driving under the influence of the drug when he collided with the van.

While he entered guilty pleas to nine of 14 federal charges filed against him relating to the robberies, Schaeffer’s attorney reportedly told Judge Thomas Varlan he intends to go proceed to trail on the remaining five charges, in part because they allege he was armed and that could result in a longer sentence for Schaeffer.

Local officials have said court proceedings on the vehicular homicide charges aren’t expected to proceed until the federal charges are resolved.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com