Woman cleared DNA leads to room­mate’s ar­rest as

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - LOCAL & STATE - By Suzie Schot­telkotte The Ledger Suzie Schot­telkotte can be reached at suzie.schot­[email protected] theledger.com or 863-533-9070. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @south­polkscene.

BAR­TOW — For Christina West­dorp, the eight­month night­mare is fi­nally over.

She al­ways knew she wasn’t driv­ing that night. She knew some­one else was be­hind the wheel of her Mit­subishi Galant on March 16 when it crashed into Roy Wayne Stid­ham’s car along U.S. 98 at West Socrum Loop Road in Lake­land, send­ing Stid­ham’s car into a roll that would end his life.

West­dorp, 36, knew she wasn’t the one who had fled the scene af­ter the crash, even as three wit­nesses picked her photo from line­ups, iden­ti­fy­ing her as the flee­ing driver.

But it wasn’t un­til now, af­ter she spent four months in the Polk County Jail and eight months fac­ing a pos­si­ble 30-year prison sen­tence, that DNA ev­i­dence has ex­on­er­ated West­dorp.

The same DNA has con­firmed that her room­mate, Shaina Kris­tine Si­monecht, 35, was driv­ing West­dorp’s 2004 Mit­subishi that night. Si­monecht is be­ing held in the Polk County Jail on $16,000 bail on al­le­ga­tions of leav­ing the scene of a crash in­volv­ing a fa­tal­ity and driv­ing with­out a li­cense, ac­cord­ing to court records.

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m glad she’s been ar­rested,” said West­dorp, who’s liv­ing in Michi­gan now with her fiancé. “I have a job and I’m happy. Things are good.”

She’d lived most of her life in Lake­land, but felt com­pelled to leave af­ter her re­lease from jail in July.

“I felt like I was made out to be a cold-hearted per­son,” she said. “I would never have left a per­son be­hind like that. Never.”

West­dorp said she felt like peo­ple she’d known all her life were look­ing down on her.

“I couldn’t walk with my head held high be­cause I felt like ev­ery­body was look­ing badly at me,” she said. “I had to get out of Polk County.”

The crash Ac­cord­ing to Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­ports, Stid­ham, driv­ing a 1995 Toy­ota Camry, turned from West Socrum Loop Road into the path of the Mit­subishi, which was north­bound on U.S. 98 and un­able to avoid the col­li­sion.

Stid­ham, 42, of Lake­land, died at the scene.

West­dorp said she told Polk County Sher­iff ’s deputies when they came to her door the night of the crash that she had not been driv­ing the car that night. She said she had been at home at 6:25 p.m., when the crash oc­curred, but she had al­lowed Si­monecht to use her car.

While West­dorp sat in the Polk County Jail, deputies con­tin­ued their ef­forts to track down Si­monecht, ac­cord­ing to ar­rest re­ports.

“All of these ef­forts had neg­a­tive results due to Si­monecht ac­tively avoid­ing con­tact with law en­force­ment, and even miss­ing court dates to deal with sep­a­rate mat­ters,” the af­fi­davit states.

On June 20, Si­monecht con­tacted deputies to say she would meet with them. In a taped state­ment, she said her sis­ter had taken her to Ze­phyrhills to meet with a friend the night the crash took place, which deputies de­ter­mined wasn’t true, the re­port states. Her sis­ter, Brit­tany King, told deputies Si­monecht had asked her to lie about her where­abouts that evening, but she re­fused.

King said she wouldn’t lie for her be­cause she had four chil­dren of her own and had re­ceived emer­gency cus­tody of Si­monecht’s new­born baby, and she had to be able to pro­vide for all of them, ac­cord­ing to Si­monecht’s ar­rest af­fi­davit.

When con­fronted again by deputies, Si­monecht re­peat­edly in­sisted she had no in­volve­ment in the fa­tal­ity, Sher­iff ’s Of­fice re­ports state. But she did con­sent to pro­vide deputies with sam­ples of her DNA.

West­dorp is cleared Three weeks later, on July 11, prose­cu­tors filed doc­u­ments in West­dorp’s crim­i­nal case re­gard­ing lab re­ports and tran­scripts of Si­monecht’s taped state­ments to deputies, ac­cord­ing to court records. Two days af­ter that, West­dorp was re­leased from the Polk County Jail with­out hav­ing to post bail, jail records show.

Chief As­sis­tant State At­tor­ney Ja­cob Orr said West­dorp was re­leased based on pre­lim­i­nary DNA results, but charges against her re­mained pend­ing un­til fur­ther test­ing was com­pleted.

DNA ev­i­dence re­trieved from the driver’s airbag of the Mit­subishi matched the DNA Si­monecht had vol­un­tar­ily pro­vided to deputies, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Si­monecht’s DNA also matched DNA found on the col­lar, left sleeve and cuffs of a blood-stained white hoodie that a Sher­iff’s Of­fice K-9 had tracked from the crash scene.

When Si­monecht was ar­rested Nov. 15 in Lake­land, she had six pend­ing sus­pen­sions on her driver’s li­cense for un­paid traf­fic fines, along with two con­vic­tions for driv­ing while her li­cense was sus­pended or re­voked, deputies stated in her ar­rest af­fi­davit.

She has an ar­raign­ment sched­uled Dec. 18 in Bar­tow.

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