Friends organize benefit for hit-and-run victims

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal editor
Aaron Schroeder (left) and Joni Heggen (not pictured) are organizing a daylong benefit on April 27 for Linda Parks and Jeff Shomion, who are recovering from a Feb. 14 hit-and-run accident. Jill Meier/BV Journal

Valentine’s Day was the last night of the dart league season for Linda Parks and Jeff Shomion.
Just as they’ve done for seasons before, they’d just finished up the night at Bottoms Up in Corson and were headed home. Their vehicle was parked across the busy highway from the bar, so Jeff, as he’s done before, grabbed his wife’s hand as they began to cross the street.
Then, they were both hit by a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup driven by Rita Dewitte, 43, of Garretson. According to witnesses, Dewitte backed up her pickup at a high rate of speed.
“I don’t remember the initial impact, it happened so fast. I do remember at one point being underneath that pickup. It was such a flash in my memory,” says Parks, who took the brunt of injuries that include a broken pelvis – in four areas – and fractured tibia and fibula 
Jeff was struck by the corner of the pickup. His busted ribs were a result of the truck’s broken taillight. 
“I didn’t know I was hurt at first,” Jeff recalls. “I was laying on the ground after I got hit, and basically what I can remember is Linda was hit and rolled under the pickup. They stopped for a few seconds and floored it again and rolled her under the pickup again.”
The injuries kept Jeff from his work at Wells Fargo for three weeks, and Linda, now relegated to a wheelchair, is homebound as she recuperates. 
“I’m going to walk again for sure, but I don’t know when or if it will be 100 percent or 80 percent,” Linda tells, noting that her left foot remains swollen and painful. 
She, too, is unable to return to her job as a nurse at Avera OBGYN.
The accident has burdened the couple’s finances, which led friends Aaron Schroeder and Joni Heggen and others to organize a daylong benefit for them on April 27 at the Brandon VFW and Double D Saloon.  
“I heard about the accident and I’ve known Jeff and Linda for a while,” Schroeder informs. “They weren’t able to press charges or find somebody responsible right away and I knew they would be getting bills and be out of work, so I said, ‘We’ve got to do something to help recoup that loss. This isn’t something that’s their fault.’” 
The benefit plans include a silent auction, gift baskets, food, bake sale and raffles throughout the day at the Double D, and a dart tournament from 12 noon to 6 p.m. at the VFW. That evening, bands are scheduled to play at the Double D.
Schroeder said the response to the cause has been phenomenal.
“Everywhere I’ve walked into, I don’t think we’ve been turned down once,” he said. “There’s just so many people that you can’t even name them all that have gone out and got donations for this.”
The husband and wife of nearly five years are humbled by the kind act.
“We couldn’t get through this without Aaron and Joni and other friends that have taken pretty good care of us,” Jeff said. “These guys have been awesome and we just want the benefit to be fun. I know these guys have a goal but if we raise $500 and people just came to say ‘hi’ to us, we’d be happy as clams.”
Linda said everything she does today is far different than how she did it prior to the accident.
“Ambulation, bathing, doing things around the house, everything has completely changed,” she said. 
She sleeps in an electronic recliner and recently learned through therapy how to go upstairs on her butt. But someone has to be there to bring the wheelchair upstairs, where the shower is in their two-story home.
Linda said her days “go very fast, which seems odd.” She enjoys her morning coffee, reads, checks out social media sites, watches TV and keeps busy letting the couple’s two dogs in and out.
Their living room carpeting was recently switched out to wood flooring, which was donated by a mortgage company.
“It’s so much easier for me to get around on,” she said.
Life has changed somewhat for Jeff, too.
“I had to go shopping for hair products today, which I never do,” he says with a laugh. 
Jeff and Linda agree they’re not bitter against Dewitte. 
“Bitter is a strong word,” Jeff says.
Instead, the couple wants to see justice served. 
“I don’t like how she handled it. I want what should be done,” he said. “We were very relieved when we found out she had been charged.”
 
The arrest and charges
Dewitte was arrested and charged late last month following a lengthy investigation.
According to the arrest warrant, Rita Michelle Dewitte, 43, allegedly backed up her pickup at a high rate of speed, striking the couple walking to their vehicle from Bottoms Up. The pickup hit Jeff Shomion, while running over his wife, Linda Parks.
Detective Kellen Weidner with the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Department, said a witness saw a white Dodge Ram pickup placed in reverse at a high rate of speed before hitting the couple. The pickup reportedly paused for a moment and sped off north on Highway 11, hitting Parks a second time.
The witness and her husband called 911 and waved traffic away from Parks, who was lying in the middle of the highway. Video footage confirmed the witness report, logging the impact time at 10:44 p.m. Feb. 14.
The arrest warrant report states at 4:51 a.m. Feb. 15, that law enforcement discovered an abandoned pickup at Oak Drive and Third Street in Garretson and matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle, which had a broken taillight. The vehicle was traced to Dewitte, who was taken into custody for questioning.
At 7:35 a.m., county law enforcement spoke with the registered owner of the vehicle and Sonja Garcia, a passenger in the pickup. Both women said they were in the Corson area where the accident occurred. Dewitte said she was driving but denied any accident occurring.
Both women were voluntarily brought in for further questioning. Further investigations revealed matching debris left at the scene was consistent to Dewitte’s vehicle. Cell phone records obtained by a warrant disclosed text messages between Dewitte and Garcia, admitted to drinking alcohol on the night of the accident. The report states they had been at JL Beers in Sioux Falls and 212º The Boiling Point in Brandon before arriving at Bottoms Up. They did not go inside the bar, and Garcia said she did not hear or feel anything from inside the vehicle that led her to believe they had struck anything when leaving the bar.
Video footage obtained shows the pickup backing up at a high rate of speed and striking Shomion and Parks. The report states the truck paused for a short time and can been seen leaving north on Highway 11 and hitting Parks a second time.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Feb. 15, Dewitte asked to speak to attorney. Detective Marc Wynia said he smelled the odor of alcohol coming from Dewitte’s person. A blood sample was taken from Dewitte at 11:50 a.m. but test results are not known.

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