An Ohio teen accepted a plea deal on Wednesday for his role in pushing a log off a 75-foot cliff last September that struck and killed a mother of four who was below taking photos.
Victoria Schafer, 44, was at Old Man's Cave at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio on Sept. 2, 2019 to photograph high school seniors on Labor Day weekend when the 6-foot, 74-pound log killed her with one fatal blow.
Jaden Churcheus, 17, who was initially charged with murder and reckless homicide, instead pleaded guilty to one charge of involuntary manslaughter in Hocking County Common Pleas Court.
Churcheus and his friend, Jordan Buckley, 17, were initially tried as juveniles before the decision was made to charge both teens as adults. Buckley has been offered a similar plea deal and will appear in court on Sept. 25, according to the Cincinnati Inquirer.
"That day at Old Man’s Cave, I never would have imagined that my actions would result in this,” Churcheus said in court, according to local station WBNS-TV. “I have thought about the fact that I caused someone’s death every day since it happened, and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. I appreciate the kindness of Ms. Schafer's family, the attorney general's office and the prosecutor’s office in giving me a second chance. I realize that nothing I say can bring Ms. Schafer back, but I am truly sorry.”
The case will now return to a juvenile court for sentencing on Oct. 15. The judge is recommending Churchheus serve a minimum of three years and a maximum of 4.5 years in an Ohio juvenile detention facility, according to the Inquirer.
After Schafer's death, the Hocking County Sheriff's Office quickly determined the falling log was not an accident. Churcheus and Buckley were later arrested after eyewitness tips led police to the teens, who were both 16 at the time.
Schafer, who owned her own photography business, was remembered as a devoted wife and mother of four. Her death left behind her husband of 21 years, Fritz, and four children: John, 20, Emily, 18, Maddie, 17, and Grace, 14.
"Victoria always had a heart for others," her sister, Cathy Muth, told TODAY at the time. "Whether it was her work in human resources or her photography, her talent lied in seeing the best in others and helping to bring it out in them."
"It is impossible to walk through Chillicothe, Ohio without running into someone who has a story to tell about something Victoria did for them," Muth added. "How kind she was to them, or how good she made them feel."