Shantel Lynn Witt was back in a Deschutes County Circuit courtroom Monday, nearly a year after striking and killing a cyclist with her truck, to ask for the suppression of blood evidence taken without a warrant.
Witt’s blood was drawn by a hospital staffer on the evening of Dec. 30, 2017, several hours after she drove into cyclist Marika Stone, 38, killing Stone instantly.
Witt, 42, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter and other charges. The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office alleges she was driving under the influence of a combination of prescribed and nonprescribed medications. Her trial is scheduled for late January.
In October, Witt’s attorney, Brian Donahue, moved to exclude the results of a warrantless blood draw taken more than two hours after the crash. Her blood was drawn a second time, six hours after the crash, this time with a warrant. Both tests showed pharmaceutical drugs in her system, though the second test showed smaller amounts.
Judge A. Michael Adler will now determine whether the first test will be included in Witt’s upcoming trial. Her motion to suppress the evidence does not pertain to the second blood test.
Monday in Adler’s courtroom, Witt sat at the defense table and hardly moved or spoke as testimony was given by two police officers and a medical examiner, and audio was played of Witt’s interviews with police in the hours after the crash.
At 3:15 p.m. Dec. 30, Stone was riding west on Dodds Road, following single file behind two other experienced cyclists. About 4 miles east of U.S. Highway 20 on Dodds Road, Witt crossed the double-yellow center line and struck Stone, police said.
According to police, Witt continued driving for about 150 yards, striking a fence in the process, before stopping and driving back toward Stone’s body in reverse.
One of Stone’s fellow riders, Bruce Rogers, called 911 at 3:21 p.m. He told the dispatcher his friend appeared dead.
Deschutes County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp was the first law enforcement officer on scene, arriving at 3:44 p.m. He testified Monday he immediately suspected Witt was impaired and began a DUII investigation.
Witt told Vander Kamp, one of the sheriff’s office’s drug recognition experts, she was prescribed and had taken several medications that day. He asked her to perform field sobriety tests, and at 4:31 p.m., he placed her under arrest. Before they left the scene, Vander Kamp asked Witt if she’d consent to a blood draw at St. Charles Bend. She declined, telling the sergeant she didn’t want to leave her truck unattended and that her husband was on his way.
At 4:52 p.m., 90 minutes after the crash, Vander Kamp left the scene with Witt. They arrived at St. Charles 14 minutes later.
Vander Kamp testified he strongly suspected Witt was impaired by some combination of drugs, not alcohol, and he knew the chemicals in her system were dissipating by the second.
“I recognized that time was of the essence,” Vander Kamp said in court Monday. “I knew that the human body was working against me to get rid of those substances.”
St. Charles was “extremely busy” the night of Saturday, Dec. 30, Vander Kamp said. One hospital staffer can be heard on the audio telling him, “You can’t buy a bed in here tonight.”
Vander Kamp told Witt he would first take an “exigency draw” due to the time he knew it would take to get a warrant. He’d then obtain a search warrant and draw more blood, he told Witt.
According to the prosecution, at this point Witt reversed her earlier decision to decline the blood draw. She signed a consent form, and at 5:30 p.m., two hours and 10 minutes after the crash, a hospital staffer collected a sample of Witt’s blood.
Vander Kamp next took Witt to the Deschutes County jail. He obtained a search warrant and drove Witt back to the hospital, where her blood was drawn a second time, at 9:18 p.m., or six hours after the crash.
The results of the two blood tests were heavily discussed at Monday’s daylong hearing. According to prosecutors, the first blood draw showed Witt’s blood contained Xanax, the muscle relaxant Soma and the tranquilizer Meprobamate. The second draw showed the Soma had completely filtered out of Witt’s system, and the levels of the other two substances were lower than in the first sample.
“I believe we’ve entered enough evidence to show that there was consent, as well as that the blood draw was collected based on both probable cause and exigency,” said Deputy District Attorney Kari Hathorn.
Witt’s attorney, Donahue, argued the first blood test should be excluded from trial because it was collected without a warrant and because, he said, she didn’t consent to it.
“She said ‘no’ more than once. N-O. No. You can’t get more clear than that,” Donahue said.
Donahue told the judge that Vander Kamp’s interview tactics convinced his client she didn’t have a choice whether her blood would be drawn.
“And mere acquiescence is not consent,” Donahue said. “She believed this was merely going to happen.”
Witt is also being sued by Stone’s husband, Jerry Stone, for $32 million for wrongful death.
Jerry Stone was in court Monday, as was Stone’s father and her twin sister.
“We’re waiting for all this to move through the legal system and the courts to do their job,” said Gregory Middag, father of Marika Stone.
About 20 minutes of the audio played at the hearing was of Witt in custody alone in the back of Vander Kamp’s police car. The 20 or so people attending the hearing sat silently as pop music played and Witt’s voice occasionally cut in.
“This is f-----g stupid,” she said to herself at one point.
Later, at the hospital, she told Vander Kamp she didn’t do anything wrong that night. Then she tells him she’s likely going to hell, “So, whatever.”
“I don’t think you’re going to hell,” he told her. “I think this was an accident. It doesn’t change who you are.”
“I drive so carefully,” Witt said. “I didn’t even see her.”
“I think something happened with your medications today,” Vander Kamp said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org