A judge convicted Shantel Lynn Witt of first-degree manslaughter Friday morning for a fatal drugged-driving collision with a local cyclist in 2017.
Witt, 42, of Bend, was led away by deputies after Judge A. Michael Adler announced his decision to a packed courtroom in Deschutes County Circuit Court. She was also found guilty of four misdemeanors — DUII, possession of the controlled substance tramadol and two counts of reckless endangering. She faces up to 14 years in prison.
Before her six-day bench trial, she pleaded guilty to a sixth charge, possession of the controlled substance oxycodone.
Reading his decision, Adler said Witt’s behavior after the crash was important in his determination that she showed “extreme indifference,” which is needed to convict someone for first-degree manslaughter. He called her behavior after the crash — captured in long audio clips played throughout the trial — “remarkable.”
“Never once, ever, did she express the slightest concern for the woman she’d just killed,” Adler said. “Even after seeing her body lying on the side of the road.”
On Dec. 30, 2017, Witt was intoxicated on a combination of prescribed and nonprescribed medications when she drove her truck into Marika Stone, 38, a Bend dentist and mother of two.
Many of Stone’s relatives, patients and friends were at the hearing.
Her twin sister, Tansy Brown, called Witt a “horrible person,” and said the verdict was “definitely what she deserves.”
Brown, a Bend physical therapist, wants the case to set precedent in Oregon.
“I was thankful that the judge made it abundantly clear that she was indifferent to human life, particularly, my sister’s life,” she said.
Stone’s father, Greg Middag, said Oregon needs to correct several circumstances that led to his daughter’s death by making it more difficult for veterinarians to prescribe medications that can be abused by pet owners.
He said reforms are needed to control prescription medication and DUI diversion programs.
In Witt’s case, medical professionals testified they warned her that her pill regimen was dangerous. Three days before the wreck, a doctor at Mosaic Medical began tapering her off them. The next day, she visited a veterinarian and secured a prescription for Xanax for her dog, who she said had suffered a laceration.
Xanax was one of the 11 substances found in a test of Witt’s urine, and prosecutors allege she had taken her dog’s pills. She was found to have consumed hydrocodone and the muscle relaxer Soma.
“I think the best thing for the community would be to maximize the amount of time she spends away,” Middag said.
Also present Friday was Jerry Stone, Marika Stone’s former husband who is suing Witt for $34.5 million. Lawsuits such as this can often move ahead faster once an associated criminal case concludes.
Following the ruling, Stone’s relatives hugged the prosecutors who tried the case on behalf of the district attorney’s office — Kari Hathorn and Andrew Steiner — as well as sheriff’s Sgt. Kent VanderKamp, who was Witt’s arresting officer.
Over hours of audio played during the trial, VanderKamp calmly questioned her and listened. His composure at the scene of the tragedy contrasted to Witt’s slurred speech and erratic behavior.
A crowd filled the courthouse lobby before the hearing. The courtroom, which has a listed occupancy of 89 people, could not hold the group.
Four officers, including the jail commander, were on hand to keep the peace, as the judge asked ahead of time for no emotional outbursts or “commentary.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” he warned.
Adler read for the courtroom a summary of his ruling, first explaining how Witt was “clearly” guilty of the lesser crime of second-degree manslaughter.
A reasonable person would never become highly impaired on a variety of pills and drive a vehicle at a recorded speed of 65 mph around a turn with an advised reduced speed of 50 mph, Adler said.
As Witt’s truck entered the slight right curve on Dodds Road, she essentially continued straight, completely crossing the centerline into the path of three oncoming cyclists.
Stone’s fellow riders Carrie Carney and Bruce Rogers were able to avoid Witt’s 2002 GMC Sierra by inches, surviving only by making the split-second decision to turn toward the centerline — a move counterintuitive to most serious cyclists.
After Witt collided with Stone, her truck left the road. She corrected course and came to a stop several hundred yards away.
“All this clearly establishes the case for manslaughter in the second degree,” Adler said.
It was what Witt did after she drove back to the crime scene — in reverse — that the judge said earned her a conviction for first-degree manslaughter.
“After she killed Marika Stone — and after she saw Marika Stone’s body lying next to the road — the defendant expressed her anger at the ‘effing cyclists’ on the road,” Adler said, quoting Witt. “That this was all ‘effing bulls--t.’ That she had done nothing wrong. And on and on … She never seemed to the slightest degree to express any remorse or sorrow in any way. Quite frankly she was angry and she was belligerent, as if she was the victim.”
Witt’s trial included witnesses testifying to Witt’s behavior in the minutes and hours after she killed Stone. Upon getting out of her truck right after the crash, she angrily confronted Rogers, who had told her she’d just killed someone.
“F-----g cyclists are always in the road,” she said.
Rogers yelled at her to get back in her car. She did.
When he arrived on scene and introduced himself to Witt, VanderKamp said he “immediately” suspected DUI.
As he walked her through the roadside sobriety tests — all of which she failed — her mood fluctuated wildly, from lighthearted to self-pitying to angry. She never seemed to grasp that she had just ended a life, Adler said.
In-car audio captured one of her mood swings, after VanderKamp locked her in the back of his patrol car and walked away.
“This is bulls--t,” she said to herself. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Adler said the Witt case bears a “striking” resemblance to an Oregon appellate decision called State v. Downing, which established precedent for “extreme indifference” in manslaughter cases.
In that case, after running over three students in a crosswalk, defendant Sophia Downing sat on the curb about a foot from one of her victim’s heads and smoked a cigarette.
Similar to the Witt case, Downing is never heard asking about her victims or expressing remorse.
At the conclusion of Adler’s remarks, Witt was led away by deputies and taken to the Deschutes County jail
She is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 19, when she could receive up to 14 years in prison.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org