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UPDATE: Woman charged with homicide of Mika Westwolf
In the early morning of March 31, 2023, Mika Westwolf, a 22-year-old Indigenous woman, was walking on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 93, which passes through the Flathead reservation in Montana. Westwolf was struck by a Cadillac Escalade and declared dead at the scene.
Authorities said that 28-year-old Sunny White was behind the wheel of the Escalade with her two young children in the back seat and fled the scene. White is allegedly a white nationalist; she named her children "Aryan" and "Nation." Some speculated that Westwolf's death was a hate crime.
White was initially charged in April with two counts of criminal child endangerment. But Lake County District Attorney James Lapotka dropped the charges, saying more time was needed for the Montana Highway Patrol to investigate.
In May and June, Popular Information revealed that the investigation into Westwolf's death was under-resourced, haphazard, and focused on pinning blame on the victim. Trooper Wayne Bieber of the Montana Highway Patrol was the lead investigator. In a visit to Westwolf's family three weeks after her death, Bieber appeared unfamiliar with basic facts, confused about Montana law, and dismissive of White's potential connections to white nationalists.
"Once they found out that she was a young Indian woman, and it was late at night, early in the morning, they started investigating whether or not she was drinking or doing drugs," Erica Shelby, a legal advocate for the Westwolf family, told Popular Information. "Then they started investigating if she was suicidal."
At that point, Westwolf's death had been the subject of two articles in the Missoulian and a handful of other reports from Montana outlets. The dearth of coverage is typical in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. But Popular Information's report was picked up by major national media outlets, including Democracy Now, Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and New York Magazine. Shortly thereafter, the Montana Highway Patrol told Popular Information that the FBI had begun assisting with the investigation.
Over the weekend, White was arrested and charged with five felonies, including vehicular homicide while under the influence, criminal child endangerment, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. According to documents filed on October 19 by Lapotka, White initially told an officer that she "had hit a deer and not stopped." A search of White's car yielded "a small makeup tube with methamphetamine inside, five syringes, and two unopened packages of Narcan." A blood sample taken from White allegedly "came back positive for fentanyl and methamphetamine."
Westwolf's mother, Carissa Heavy Runner, engaged in a lengthy campaign to raise awareness of her daughter's case and other missing and murdered Indigenous women. "I was glad to hear [the news], you know, but I’m still kind of in shock because it really seemed like this day was unreachable," she told the Missoulian.
If convicted, White could face decades in prison.