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Accused Mar-a-Lago checkpoint crasher pleads insanity

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Western Connecticut State University opera singer accused of crashing her car through a checkpoint outside President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, drawing gunfire from law enforcement, has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hannah Roemhild’s attorney filed the written plea Wednesday to charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon and fleeing and resisting an officer. Authorities do not believe she was targeting the president or Mar-a-Lago.

Attorney David Roth has previously said the 30-year-old resident of Middletown, Connecticut, has a history of mental illness and had been off her medication when she crashed through the checkpoint on Jan. 31. She nearly struck Secret Service agents and Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies, who opened fire as she sped off.

Insanity defenses are both rare and rarely successful. Under Florida law, Roemhild’s attorneys will have to convince a jury she is mentally ill and that caused her to not know what she was doing or not understand it was wrong. Even if found not guilty, that would not necessarily mean she would go free as the judge could sentence her to a mental hospital for treatment.

Palm Beach County prosecutors did not return a call seeking comment. They have a policy of not commenting on pending cases. No trial date has been set.

Prosecutors say Roemhild was spotted dancing on the roof of her rented SUV outside The Breakers, a ritzy Palm Beach hotel about 2 miles (3 kilometers) north of Mar-a-Lago. When a Florida Highway Patrol trooper working off-duty security at the hotel approached her, Roemhild jumped into her driver’s seat and sped south on Ocean Boulevard with the trooper in pursuit, authorities said.

Roemhild didn’t stop when she reached the checkpoint outside Mar-a-Lago, authorities said, causing Secret Service agents and Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies to open fire, shattering the SUV’s back window.

The trooper backed off and Roemhild picked up her mother, who had just arrived at nearby Palm Beach International Airport, and drove to her hotel. Troopers tracked her there and she was arrested. The president wasn’t at the resort but arrived several hours later to spend the weekend.

Mar-a-Lago has been the scene of several intrusions since Trump became president. On Jan. 5, just hours after Trump and his family had left the club following a two-week vacation, a Florida man who had been dishonorably discharged from the Marines for sex offenses was arrested after he got past two checkpoints. He had falsely identified himself as part of the president’s helicopter crew.

In March 2019, Chinese national Yujing Zhang gained access to Mar-a-Lago while carrying a laptop, phones and other electronic gear. That led to initial speculation that the 33-year-old businesswoman from Shanghai might be a spy, but she was never charged with espionage. Text messages she exchanged with a trip organizer indicated she was a fan of the president and wanted to meet him or his family to discuss possible deals.

Zhang was found guilty of trespassing and lying to Secret Service agents and was sentenced to time served.

In December, the club’s security officers confronted Jing Lu, 56, for trespassing and told her to leave, but she returned to take photos. Lu was charged with loitering and resisting an officer without violence after taking photos by entering a service entrance.

And in 2018 a University of Wisconsin student visiting Palm Beach with his family for Thanksgiving mingled with a crowd gaining admission to the resort just to see if he could get in. He did, even though the president and his family were there. He apologized, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and got probation.