The people who encountered Shantel Lynn Witt right after she drove head-on into a Bend cyclist in 2017 thought she was impaired.
The cyclists whose friend was just killed both thought Witt was drunk.
And the arresting officer suspected DUII within moments of contacting Witt.
“She was not connected to the conversation or with me,” said Sgt. Kent VanderKamp of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. “Even in my first, brief interaction with her, I thought she was impaired.”
These are conclusions drawn from the first day of Witt’s trial for first-degree manslaughter in the death of cyclist Marika Stone. Witt has opted to fight the charges at a bench trial, which in her case began Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge A. Michael Adler.
Witt, 42, is charged with first-degree manslaughter and five lesser counts. Prosecutors allege she was high on a cocktail of prescription and nonprescription medications — 11 in all, including Xanax prescribed to her dog — when she allegedly crashed into Stone.
To convict for first-degree manslaughter, the prosecution needs to prove Witt acted with “extreme indifference” in causing Stone’s death. Witnesses so far have testified Witt acted callously toward her deceased victim and berated the two survivors for encroaching on her lane.
But according to the official police investigation, it was Witt who crossed completely into the opposite lane, and tracks from all four tires were seen on the shoulder.
On Tuesday, the prosecution wheeled a replica of Stone’s Trek bike into Adler’s courtroom. Its handlebars were wrapped in the same pink grip tape Stone had used.
In the morning was testimony from the two other riders with Stone that day, and in the afternoon, from VanderKamp, who spent approximately six hours with the defendant following the collision.
The case began on the sunny afternoon of Dec. 30, 2017. The air was crisp, the sky bluebird, and the pavement, “buttery,” according to Carrie Carney, whose testimony led off Tuesday’s proceedings.
Carney spoke admiringly of her friend, Stone, 38, who along with her identical twin sister, Tansey, participated in the top levels of outdoor athletic competition in Bend and beyond.
“It is not fair that you’re this talented,” she recalled telling Stone.
That morning, Stone called Carney to ask if she was up to go on a run to the Bend Athletic Club. They could maybe soak and catch up.
Carney had already made plans to cycle with her boyfriend, Bruce Rogers. She countered with another idea.
“Why don’t you ride with us?” Carney recalled from the witness stand.
They decided Rogers’ son would drop off the trio in Prineville, and they’d ride back to Bend on county roads, past Facebook’s data center and the Alfalfa Store.
They joked as they made their way down Dodds Road toward U.S. Highway 20 — Rogers in front, Carney drafting immediately behind him, Stone taking up the rear. One of the last things Stone ever said was “thank you,” to Carney, for inviting her along for the ride, Carney testified.
At the same time, Witt was returning home from a shopping trip to Bend, police have said. She’d stopped at four places in town and hit the Taco Bell drive-thru on her way out.
The speed limit on that section of Dodds Road is 55 mph and the road curves slightly.
Rogers testified he was the first to see Witt, riding completely in his lane and seeming to accelerate. He screamed — he doesn’t remember what. Carney looked up.
With an instant to act, Rogers decided to swerve inside. Carney, probably a foot behind him, followed.
Carney testified their bikes missed Witt’s truck by inches. Rogers and Carney had assumed the truck had rolled.
Carney said she was surprised when she saw Witt’s truck still upright. From more than 100 yards away, Witt backed up to the location of Stone’s body.
Rogers and Carney testified that Witt was irate at first.
“You f-----g cyclists are always in the road,” she’s reported to have said.
Later, according to testimony, Witt offered them the use of the small first-aid kit that came standard with her Sierra.
Rogers was having none of it, he testified.
“You just f----g killed someone,” he said. “Get back in your car.”
VanderKamp was the first law enforcement officer on scene, but due to difficulty locating the crash site, he didn’t arrive until 45 minutes after the 911 call. He said he found Witt in her vehicle, “thumbing through her phone.”
“I asked if she was all right,” VanderKamp testified Tuesday. “She said, ‘Why wouldn’t I be all right?”
He asked for identification. She searched through her vehicle, but eventually gave up.
She looked pale and seemed tired and lethargic, VanderKamp told the court. She squeezed her eyes shut, “as if to focus.”
He shined a light at her pupils to see if they’d react, he said. They didn’t.
VanderKamp eventually arrested Witt for DUII, citing signs of impairment he noticed, Witt’s alleged poor performance on roadside sobriety tests and odd comments she made to him during their interaction.
“It was based on a totality of circumstances,” VanderKamp said.
The state intends to call around 25 witnesses, including others who encountered Witt in the collision’s aftermath and technicians who examined tests of her blood and urine. The defense isn’t expected to begin its presentation until next week.
Audio from VanderKamp’s encounters was played for the packed courtroom Tuesday.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said in the back of VanderKamp’s patrol car. “I didn’t even see ’em.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org