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1 Dead, 3 Injured After SUV Driver Plowed Into Protesters In Minneapolis

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Police in Minneapolis are investigating after an SUV careened into a crowd of protesters last night, killing one and injuring three others. The protest was over the killing of a Black man by sheriff's deputies two weeks ago. And joining us now from Minneapolis is Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio.

Hi, Matt.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You were there on the scene last night. Tell us what you heard from witnesses and what you know about how this crash unfolded.

SEPIC: Late last night, a few dozen people had gathered on Lake Street in the city's uptown area. This was the latest in a series of demonstrations against the killing of Winston Smith, a 32-year-old Black man. Sheriff's deputies fatally shot Smith in a parking garage June 3 while trying to arrest him on a firearms warrant. Around 11:35 last night, a man drove an SUV at high speed toward the demonstrators. He crashed into a car that was parked across the traffic lanes to protect the crowd. The impact pushed the parked car into people standing and sitting near it. One of the protesters out last night was D.J. Hooker, a local activist. I spoke with him about 90 minutes after the crash.

D J HOOKER: A car came out that was going, like, 70 or 80 miles an hour. And as it got through the first street, it even sped up as it got to the car. And it hit the car, and the car went through the air, and it hit a young woman.

SHAPIRO: And I understand that young woman's family members have identified her. Who was the victim?

SEPIC: Her name was Deona Erickson. She would have turned 32 years old on Wednesday. She leaves behind two school-aged daughters. My colleague was at a news conference earlier today with Deb Kenney, Erickson's mother. Kenney says her daughter was passionate about social justice and always put other people first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEB KENNEY: I knew that she was going to use her voice for this, and I'm proud of her for doing so.

SEPIC: And, Ari, Kenney says Erickson struggled with addiction and was working as a group home manager to help others facing the same challenges.

SHAPIRO: Police arrested a suspect just after the crash. What can you tell us about him?

SEPIC: Well, video that activist D.J. Hooker posted to social media just after Erickson was struck shows protesters physically restraining a white man as people shout, you're going to jail. The video shows them handing him over to police officers. Minneapolis police say city security cameras captured the crash. The man, who is 35 years old, is being held in the Hennepin County jail pending charges of criminal vehicular homicide and driving after his license was canceled. NPR is not naming him because he has not been charged.

SHAPIRO: Any information about what his motivation might have been?

SEPIC: Well, we might learn more once prosecutors file formal criminal charges. Police said in a statement that the man may have been impaired by alcohol or drugs. A search of court records shows that the man has two felony DWI convictions here in Minnesota. No one I spoke with at the scene last night heard the driver say anything that might indicate a possible motive.

SHAPIRO: And as we said, demonstrators were protesting the police killing of Winston Smith. Have authorities said anything about that incident?

SEPIC: They've said very little beyond brief written statements, and that has been particularly frustrating to activists here. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating, says Smith fired a gun from inside his vehicle, but a woman who was in the car with Smith says through her attorney that she never saw him with a gun. The deputies who killed Smith were operating under U.S. Marshals Service rules that had prohibited them from wearing their body cameras, but it's unclear if they were abiding by the latest Justice Department policy on body cameras. Often in Minnesota, when police kill someone, investigators release the officers' names within a few days, but state police say they're not doing that this time because the deputies were working undercover.

SHAPIRO: That's Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio.

Thank you very much.

SEPIC: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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