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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
An emotional Stephanie Peaslee, mother of Chelsea Smith-Peaslee, attends the court hearing for David Romero on Wednesday.

FARMINGTON — Stephanie Peaslee walked out of the courtroom, tears welling in her eyes and a stunned expression on her face.

"How could he plead not guilty?" she wondered aloud.

Peaslee came to see the man charged in the hit and run death of her daughter, 15-year-old Chelsea Smith-Peaslee. David Romero, 44, made his first appearance here in 2nd District Court on Wednesday afternoon to face charges of leaving the scene of an accident and obstructing justice, both class A misdemeanors.

"How does your client plead?" Judge Darwin Hansen asked.

"He pleads not guilty," Romero's attorney, Shawn Robinson, replied.

Romero, who does not speak English, said nothing during his brief appearance before a judge. He will now face trial on the charges. A pretrial conference has been scheduled for Jan. 28.

"We don't have any comment at this point," Robinson told reporters as they left the courtroom.

The Utah Highway Patrol said Chelsea Smith-Peaslee and a cousin were crossing I-15 near the Layton Hills Mall about 11 p.m. on Dec. 1 when Chelsea was struck by a car. Troopers said that after striking the girl, Romero left the area, failing to stop or even call police.

Why he did not stop is still a mystery.

"We can only speculate," Stephanie Peaslee said Wednesday. "We don't know."

Davis County prosecutors have said that barring any other illegal activity, had Romero stopped after the crash he would have likely not faced any charges. Instead, the UHP said that after hitting Chelsea, Romero abandoned his car in West Valley City.

Investigators wrote in charging documents that Romero then reported his 2002 Ford Mustang as stolen and cleaned the vehicle in an attempt to cover up that he'd been involved in an accident.

Romero was arrested days after the crash after UHP investigators tracked him down through a license plate found among the debris scattered alongside I-15.

Stephanie Peaslee said she plans to attend all of the court hearings, hopefully to make her daughter more human to Romero. She said that on Christmas Day, she went to Chelsea's room, lay on the bed and cried. She gave away most of her daughter's Christmas gifts to Chelsea's friends but kept a few to remember her by.

"Every day is still going to hurt. She's taken responsibility for her part," Stephanie Peaslee said. "Stand up. Be a man and admit that you did something that you weren't supposed to do. That's all we can ask for."

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