In the days leading up to her fatal collision with a cyclist, Shantel Lynn Witt was warned by medical professionals that her prescription pill regimen was dangerous, but she told them their advice didn’t pertain to her.
Friday in Deschutes County Circuit Court — where Witt is on trial for first-degree manslaughter in the death of cyclist Marika Stone— her pill regimen was described by Mosaic Medical family nurse practitioner Elizabeth Winters, who told the court that on Nov. 21, 2017, she had a serious conversation with Witt about her concerns with Witt’s daily pill schedule.
Witt had told Winters she was taking the sedative Klonopin, the opioid painkiller hydrocodone, the muscle relaxer Soma and the antidepressants Wellbutrin and Paxil.
“I told her I thought some of them should be discontinued,” said Winters, who saw Witt as an interim care provider when Witt came to Mosaic to refill several of her prescriptions.
Prosecutor Andrew Steiner next asked Winters how Witt responded to her warnings.
“She expressed that she didn’t feel they were pertinent to her,” Winters testified. “Because she’d been taking that combination of medications for a long time and had never had any adverse effects from those medications.”
About a month after Winter’s warning, on Dec. 30, 2017, Witt was arrested for DUI at the scene of a deadly wreck on Dodds Road near her home.
Witt, 42, is accused of being high on a mix of prescribed and nonprescribed medications when she crossed the center line and drove head-on into Stone, killing her instantly.
Witt was arrested after allegedly displaying numerous signs of impairment. One of these was “odd behaviors” observed by the arresting officer, including stopping midsentence to stare overhead at a passing raven.
Eleven substances were found in a sample of her urine taken hours after the collision.
She had prescriptions for five of them, for lower back pain and anxiety and depression — Norco (hydrocodone), Klonopin, Soma, Wellbutrin and Paxil.
She did not have prescriptions for four — Xanax, Tramadol, Elavil and Flexeril.
According to medical testimony, the two remaining compounds detected in Witt’s urine are likely byproducts of other medications.
The state presented veterinary records into evidence showing Witt had recently received a Xanax prescription for her 4-year-old German shepherd, Lola.
The state has a high bar to clear to prove Witt acted with “extreme indifference” to earn a conviction for first-degree manslaughter. It could mean a difference of nearly a decade behind bars, as the maximum prison penalty for first-degree manslaughter is 10 years.
Judge A. Michael Adler could opt to convict Witt for a lesser charge, specifically second-degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. The low end of a prison term for criminally negligent homicide is about two years.
Unlike other states, in Oregon, a doctor may be called to testify against a patient in a criminal case.
Friday, Mosaic Medical employees Winters and physician Josh Reiher were called as witnesses for the prosecution.
Reiher testified that he saw Witt on Dec. 27, three days before the collision.
Reiher said his biggest concern was the length of time Witt had taken Klonopin — 17 years.
He also testified he was concerned about the dangers of combining Soma and Klonopin and Soma and hydrocodone.
“Collectively, they can cause severe respiratory depression and even overdose,” he said.
Reiher said he discussed alternative pain therapies with Witt and how to best wean her off some of the drugs she was taking. He refilled Witt’s prescriptions, but one at a lower amount.
The Witt case has aroused the sympathies of the Oregon cycling and outdoor sports community. This is partly due to Witt’s alleged callous behavior in the aftermath of her collision with Stone.
Witnesses report she blamed Stone and her two fellow riders for being “always in the road,” and never called 911 or inquired about the condition of the surviving riders.
Trial proceedings opened Tuesday with testimony from Stone’s two fellow riders the day she died, as well as the officer who arrested Witt for DUI.
Wednesday and Thursday saw testimony from technicians who analyzed samples of Witt’s blood and urine, and the couple whose property abuts the scene of the collision, Dan and Beth Miller.
A former first responder, Dan Miller stayed with Stone’s body following the wreck, testifying it wasn’t right to leave her there “alone in a ditch.”
He told Stone’s relatives it was difficult to be in the same courtroom as Stone’s identical twin sister, Tansey, who’s attended nearly all of Witt’s court events.
Friday in Deschutes County Circuit Court was Day 4 of Witt’s trial. The day’s first witness was forensic toxicologist Barry Logan of NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Logan is the former director of Washington state’s crime lab.
Logan methodically listed the known effects of each of the 11 substances found in Witt’s body. On cross-examination, he was questioned about resigning under scandal from the crime lab in 2008, which forced courts to invalidate many DUI convictions.
Among the now-familiar faces in Adler’s courtroom are victim’s advocates who work for district attorney’s office, members of the local cycling community, as well as Stone’s former dental patients and hygienists and assistants who worked for her at her Bend practice, Mill Point Dental.
A small contingent is there supporting Witt. They have declined to speak to The Bulletin.
On Friday, the court allowed the defense to call one witness because he will be out of town next week, when the defense is expected to present its case.
Stephen Bunting, a friend of Witt and her husband, Kelly, from the Bend motor racing scene, testified that in the moments after the event, he received a frantic phone call from Shantel Witt, who was trying to get a hold of her husband.
Bunting hung up and called authorities. Audio of his 911 call was played for the court.
“I just got a call from my friend out on Dodds Road, oh God,” Bunting told the dispatcher. “She said she killed a cyclist, or hit a cyclist — she wasn’t making sense.”
Stone’s father, Greg Middag, has been a fixture of the trial and pre-trial proceedings. He said the most difficult part has been listening to graphic descriptions of how the collision impacted his daughter’s body.
He said he understands why they are important for the trial court to hear. After he received word of his daughter’s death, he asked authorities if he could view photographs taken of her body.
He didn’t have to, he said, but he felt it was important.
“It gave me some closure to see what caused her to expire,” Middag said at the end of the day Friday. “And, as horrid as this was to see, it appeared to have been instantaneous. That gave me some closure.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com