The family of Sydney Smith remains frustrated at how Aidan Vitela is able to prolong his freedom through the appellate court system all these years later.
KENDALL COUNTY, Texas — The pain of losing a loved one, especially your own child, never goes away. Paulla Churchwell longs for the day when true accountability comes in the 2015 death of her daughter Sydney Smith.
“Her birthday, March 12, is also her death day,” Churchwell said of Sydney, who would have turned 25-years-old last Saturday.
Meanwhile, Aidan Vitela, the man convicted of criminally negligent homicide in 2019, has yet to serve his two-year prison sentence while his legal counsel continues to pursue the appeals process. Vitela has since bonded out.
“What kind of justice system are we living in when you can essentially buy your appeals to prolong your time, to prolong your freedom,” Churchwell said.
Investigators said Vitela reached speeds of up to 115 miles per hour along Scenic Loop road near Boerne Stage road during the afternoon of March 12, 2015. Sydney Smith and friend Victoria Snell were passengers in Vitela’s vehicle.
Court records indicate the black box data showed a diminishing speed of just over 60 miles per hour before Vitela crashed into a tree, leading to the death of Sydney and critical injury of Snell, who suffered permanent damage and numerous fractures.
The impacted tree from all those years ago is now wrapped with a purple bow, Sydney’s initials while surrounded by flowers and a framed photo of the Boerne-Champion High School senior who planned to attend Ole Miss.
“She deserves to be remembered and she deserves justice,” Churchwell said. “She was intelligent beyond her years, compassionate, ambitious, she wanted to be a trauma surgeon.”
The journey to justice has been drawn out through an extensive appeals process as Vitela’s attorneys have challenged the trial court’s guilty verdict and questioned expert witness testimony regarding the events of March 12, 2015.
The Fourth Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in September 2021.
The Kendall County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is now waiting for yet another decision by the Fourth Court of Appeals regarding another challenge by Vitela based on a revised filed opinion.
It’s become a draining past several years for Churchwell, her two other daughters and overall family.
During the initial punishment phase, the state released information pertaining to Vitela’s run-ins with the law.
The Kendall County Criminal District Attorney’s Office reported Vitela was involved in an at-fault accident where he put another driver in the hospital with permanent injury nine months after the March 12 incident.
The Court also heard evidence on alleged offenses involving alcohol, illegal narcotics, and sexual assault of a child, among other offenses.
“I think as long as Aidan Vitela is out on the streets, none of our children are safe,” Churchwell said.
Sydney’s aunt Michelle Robinson hopes Vitela is held accountable and that a sense of peace can at last be felt among the entire family.
“We’re still going to mourn the loss of her of course but we just want justice for her, my sister, my family deserves justice,” Robinson said.
As years have passed since Sydney Smith’s death, the fog of justice looms. But Churchwell remains committed to keeping her daughter’s story alive as long as it takes to ensure she sees the day when Aidan Vitela does his time behind bars.
“She died a horrible, horrible, horrendous death, and I know that’s weighing heavily on you. And I just wished you would serve your time and then just make something of yourself.”