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Mom wants tougher distracted driving laws after son killed in crosswalk

Posted at 11:54 AM, Apr 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-25 12:30:34-04

LEESBURG, Va. -- On  Coton Manor Drive in Leesburg, Virginia, you may notice blue ribbons tied to trees and light posts around the neighborhood. The biggest blue ribbon is wrapped around a tree outside the home where Mindy Schulz lives with her husband and nine-year-old son Hayden.

The ribbons are tied to honor the memory of Mindy's five-month-old son Tristan. 

"Tristan was constantly happy, bouncing and giggling," Mindy said. "As soon as he had a voice, he was always talking to me."

"Everyday, he would learn a new noise and he would just practice that noise all day," father Rod Schulz recalled.

Baby Tristan's life came to an untimely end on August 31, 2016.

That day Mindy took Tristan for a walk on the path outside their neighborhood.

"I remember, I was going to make it a good day," she said. "Then it all went wrong."

While crossing Riverside Parkway in a crosswalk, the mother and infant were struck by a Jeep Cherokee driven by John Miller IV, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

"I heard a noise and I turned and I remember thinking, where did you come from you're going too fast," Mindy said.

She went to the hospital with serious injuries.

Tristan also went to the hospital, but the five-month-old boy did not survive.

"I went from having hope to my entire life just crashing."

Court records showed Miller was charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving, and failure to yield.

However, the manslaughter charge was later dropped after an examination into his cell phone found nothing more than "lone activity powering the phone," or charging, according to court documents.

The Schulz family  said some crash witnesses said they saw Miller on his phone, but Miller's attorney argued that was not the case.

He said Miller never hit the brakes, which he interpreted as Miller never seeing Mindy and Tristan in the crosswalk. Not because he was distracted, the lawyer argued, but because the left post pillar on Miller's dashboard created a blind spot.

Miller was sentenced to a year behind bars, the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor reckless driving charge.

"We were looking for responsibility and accountability," Mindy said.

Despite no findings in court of distracted driving, Mindy and Rod wanted to advocate for stricter laws.

They teamed up with DRIVE SMART Virginia, a group that does just that.

"Essentially if you're driving down the road with your eyes closed and no one can say your eyes are closed, and you hit somebody, you say, 'Oh, well I didn't see them,' you get a reckless driving," Mindy said.

Janet Brooking, Executive Director of DRIVE SMART, said their number one goal was to push for a "hands-free" law.

"I think that it’s clear that our laws are not strong enough when it comes to distracted driving in Virginia," Brooking said. "If you hit somebody and you cause them injury or death, whether you’re impaired with alcohol or whether you’re impaired with distraction you should have a similar sentence."

A "hands-free" bill failed in the Virginia General Assembly in 2018, but Brooking said she planned to work with families like the Shultz family, to help spark change.

"I think moving forward we will be working very closely with families to reach those legislators," Brooking said.

Meanwhile, the Schulz family has found additional ways to share Tristan's legacy.

Mindy created a Facebook page, Tristan's Light, a way to encourage and share different random acts of kindness.

This year, on his birthday, they asked businesses to donate a portion of their proceed to Comfort Zone Camp in Richmond, a camp that cater to grieving children.

They also provided lunch at a local fire department for two crews, and they are collecting stuffed animals for first responders to give to kids in emergency situations.

"Partly the way I was raised and partly my own personal belief is you do what you can to make the world a better place," Mindy said. "Trying to funnel the energy, good, bad, trauma, everything in-between, into something good, is what has kept me alive."

After going through yet another heartbreaking loss, a miscarriage, Mindy Schulz is pregnant and expecting a little girl.

She'll never get to officially meet her big brother, but she'll get to know him and the legacy he left behind, pretty quickly.

"I don’t how a life of five months has made more of an impact in this world than I could ever do in a lifetime."

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