The trial of Shantel Witt, who stands accused of killing a cyclist while high on pharmaceutical drugs, won’t occur until next year.
Witt was in the Deschutes County Courthouse on Wednesday to enter a not guilty plea and set a trial date: Jan. 28 of next year. But she didn’t enter a courtroom or go on the record before a judge, which angered relatives of Marika Stone, the Bend woman authorities say was killed by Witt on Dec. 30.
Witt’s attorney, Brian Donahue, conferred with a representative of the district attorney’s office and a court scheduler, while Witt waited outside in a second-floor meeting space.
Stone’s father, Greg Middag, flew from his home in Milledgeville, Georgia, to attend the arraignment of Witt, who’s accused of first-degree manslaughter — defined as showing extreme indifference in causing death. He said he wished Witt had faced a judge.
“It doesn’t seem very open and transparent,” Middag said.
Judges in Deschutes County often do not require defendants to go “on the record” before them to enter not guilty pleas and schedule trial dates. This is usually done to speed up proceedings, said District Attorney John Hummel.
“If anyone thinks this was a special accommodation for Mrs. Witt, that would be incorrect,” he said. “This is the judicial process in Deschutes County. This is how trial dates are scheduled.”
But had Witt not gone to the courthouse Wednesday, Hummel said a warrant would have been issued for her arrest.
Middag said it was ironic Witt didn’t appear in a courtroom, when her trial date was set so far off.
“I would rather see a legal system that doesn’t ignore all that speedy trial stuff in the Constitution,” he said.
First degree manslaughter is a Measure 11 offense. Witt is also accused of driving under the influence of intoxicants and two counts of reckless endangerment.
Witt, 41, wore a purple shirt and pants, and heels. After signing her plea petition, she hurried out of the courthouse.
Donahue said afterward he would prefer to have the case go to trial sooner, but neither he nor prosecutors could find mutually agreeable dates.
The crash occurred on a sunny day near 25295 Dodds Road in unincorporated Deschutes County east of Bend. Witt was driving north in a 2002 GMC Sierra truck when she crossed the centerline and crashed into Stone, who was traveling south behind two other cyclists, law enforcement officials said.
According to a search warrant request, Witt exhibited several signs of impairment after the crash. After initially refusing to take a field sobriety test, she performed poorly on three of them and admitted to using the drugs hydrocodone and soma, according to the search warrant petition by Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
The truck was a vehicle of her husband’s contracting business, Kelly J. Witt Construction, of which she is a registered agent, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
Witt remains under house arrest despite allegedly violating the conditions of her release last month. Authorities say she allowed the battery on her ankle monitor to die without notifying them.
As a result, her security was increased from $50,000 to $80,000, but Witt avoided returning to jail.
An initiative to increase penalties for driving under the influence of intoxicants has been taken up in light of Stone’s death. The 1DUI2MANY campaign advertised Witt’s Wednesday hearing on its Facebook page.
Around 600 to 700 people attended a celebration of life for Stone, which was held Jan. 27 at Summit High School. Middag said he was moved by the outpouring of support from so many people he’d never met.
“It was touching,” he said. “She left a legacy here with all the people she met. It was very apparent, that’s all I can say.”
Stone, 38, had two children, 5 and 7. She was a dentist with her own practice, Mill Point Dental, and an avid cyclist.
At the time of her death, she had recently divorced husband Jerry Stone.
Also in court on Wednesday was Marika Stone’s only sibling, an identical twin sister, Tansy Brown.
“I don’t know if you (know) much about twins,” Middag said. “But when they have their twin leave like that, it’s like a part of them dies too.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org