Charges in the Senser case

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Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, is holding a news conference this afternoon at 1:30, to discuss charges filed in the case of Amy Senser, who has acknowledged driving the SUV that struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong in August.

update 11:39 a.m. Star Tribune reports Senser will be charged with criminal vehicular operation.

I’m outside the Hennepin County Government Center where County Attorney Mike Freeman is holding a news conference (1:30 p.m.) and the charges will be detailed. Feel free to comment and ask questions.

There’s been an ongoing discussion about why it’s taken so long for charges to be filed and the role of “high-priced lawyers” in the case going on here (I’ll turn the comments off on that post at 1:30 and things will move over to this page).

TIMETABLE OF THE CASE

Here’s the timetable of the events leading up to today’s charges:

Tues. August 23 – Anousone Phanthavong, 38, of Roseville, is run over while filling his car with gasoline on the ramp from westbound Interstate 94 to Riverside Avenue.

Wes Aug 24 – Attorney for Senser family contacts State Patrol and turns over car (SUV) involved. Does not indicate who was driving.

Thurs. Sep 1 – Fox 9 breaks story that vehicle belonged to Joe Senser.

Friday Sept 2 – Amy Senser is identified as the driver of the vehicle in a statement released by the family lawyer.

Tues. Sept 5 – Family files civil suit against Senser.

Wed. Sept 14 – Medical examiner lists official cause of death.

Thurs. Sept 15 – Mrs. Senser is charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

WHAT IS VEHICULAR HOMCIDE?

Here is the Minnesota statute:

.Criminal vehicular homicide or operation; crime described.

A person is guilty of criminal vehicular homicide or operation and may be sentenced as provided in subdivision 1a, if the person causes injury to or the death of another as a result of operating a motor vehicle:

(1) in a grossly negligent manner;

(2) in a negligent manner while under the influence of:

(i) alcohol;

(ii) a controlled substance; or

(iii) any combination of those elements;

(3) while having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more;

(4) while having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, as measured within two hours of the time of driving;

(5) in a negligent manner while knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance;

(6) in a negligent manner while any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols, is present in the person’s body;

(7) where the driver who causes the accident leaves the scene of the accident in violation of section 169.09, subdivision 1 or 6; or

(8) where the driver had actual knowledge that a peace officer had previously issued a citation or warning that the motor vehicle was defectively maintained, the driver had actual knowledge that remedial action was not taken, the driver had reason to know that the defect created a present danger to others, and the injury or death was caused by the defective maintenance.

Subd. 1a.Criminal penalties.

(a) A person who violates subdivision 1 and causes the death of a human being not constituting murder or manslaughter or the death of an unborn child may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.

(b) A person who violates subdivision 1 and causes great bodily harm to another not constituting attempted murder or assault or great bodily harm to an unborn child who is subsequently born alive may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

(c) A person who violates subdivision 1 and causes substantial bodily harm to another may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than three years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

(d) A person who violates subdivision 1 and causes bodily harm to another may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.

Subd. 1b.Conviction not bar to punishment for other crimes.

A prosecution for or a conviction of a crime under this section relating to causing death or injury to an unborn child is not a bar to conviction of or punishment for any other crime committed by the defendant as part of the same conduct.

Subd. 2.

[Repealed, 2007 c 54 art 3 s 15]

Subd. 4a.Affirmative defense.

It shall be an affirmative defense to a charge under subdivision 1, clause (6), that the defendant used the controlled substance according to the terms of a prescription issued for the defendant in accordance with sections 152.11 and 152.12.

Subd. 5.Definitions.

For purposes of this section, the terms defined in this subdivision have the meanings given them.

(a) “Motor vehicle” has the meaning given in section 609.52, subdivision 1, and includes attached trailers.

(b) “Controlled substance” has the meaning given in section 152.01, subdivision 4.

(c) “Hazardous substance” means any chemical or chemical compound that is listed as a hazardous substance in rules adopted under chapter 182.

  • Duke Powell

    Bob,

    My sense is that you have felt stung by criticism on your reporting on this case. Don’t be. You have nothing to apologize for.

  • Whatever the charges, driver mistakes and surrounding issues, I will say this: Hitting a person with a vehicle can also have a deep effect on the driver.

    I once collided with a motorcycle. Fortunately, my speed was negligible, he hit my front wheel, and he wore a helmet. Still, the 2 seconds as he flew headfirst through the air in front of me were the longest of my life. I stopped driving for six months.

    The driver of the Senser SUV was very wrong to leave the scene, but believe it if she says she feels great remorse.

  • Bonnie

    I have a really hard time with the “leaving the scene” part…I guess I haven’t followed the details. Who called an ambulance? Charlie makes an excellent point. I sobbed when a dear glanced off my car and it still haunts me. I cannot imagine what I would do if I struck a person, let alone seriously injured or killed a person. Appreciate Duke’s comment, and agree.

  • Bob Collins

    //My sense is that you have felt stung by criticism on your reporting on this case.

    No I don’t feel “stung.” My job is to explain the news and I fully understand why some people feel the way they do and sometimes that clouds an explanation of what the process is and how it works and I’m fully willing to spend whatever time is necessary to do that.

    Look, people don’t know the court and legal system until they’re first exposed to it. These are family and friends of a good person who died in a horrible way, and they want answers know and in the absence of answers, we often substitute perceptions of what’s happening. I get that.

    The tension that people feel is the reconciliation of perception with facts and that’s a difficult process to work through in real time.

    I’m not a victim. I’m continually honored to have the very unusual role of having a real-time conversation with listeners/readers/visitors to peel away the elements of a story and what people feel about it.

    If we get a little bruised in the process, than we get a little bruised in the process, but I still think it’s a far healthier approach to news than being afraid of the audience.

  • lucy

    If the ‘Law’ wants to be taken seriously, then the ‘Law’ needs to maintain equal treatment in all legal matters. Its when the Law lowers the bar for some and not others in similar instances, people take notice and people begin to disrespect (and rightfully so) a Law that appears to work for only a few.

  • Bob Collins

    Of course, but vehicular homicide is about as serious a charge as was likely to be filed. It doesn’t look like the law took the last three weeks off.

  • lucy

    Could it become a murder charge, if Anousone Phanthavong would have survived if he had received medical treatment right away?

  • Lynnea

    It was the Senser’s attorney who turned me off. In my opinion he portrayed the Senser family as the victims and there was little acknowledgment Anousone Phanthavong’s family.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Clearly the wheels of justice are turning. What remains to be seen is whether or not they will be jammed by an expensive lawyer, an incompetent judge, or an arbitrary jury member.

    May peace come as soon as possible to both the family and friends of the victim and those of the perpetrator.

    There but for the grace of the angels go us.

  • Roberta

    This story is beyond heartbreaking, and I think there is more to it. It seems to me it is a case of parent covering up for child. The facts don’t add up, why was Amy driving there? Has she had drinking and driving issues in the past? A Mike’s Hard Lemonade cap was found in the car. I also read the vehicle was spotted at a Katy Perry concert. All the signs are there, the driver was not Amy, but a daughter. I mean what mother wouldn’t try and take the blame, but the victim’s family should get the whole truth.

  • John P.

    “The penalty is 0-10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.”

    Probably will cost double that to replace the Mercedes. Maybe the time has come for income based fines. If she is found guilty, I can only hope the civil suit will make up the difference.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob –

    Kudos on your articulate statement of the facts and your position in your discussion with Charles.

    I guess that’s why you get the big money. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Regarding Roberta’s comments:”It seems to me it is a case of parent covering up for child…”

    If such is in fact the truth, what are the legal possibilities? I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve watched plenty of ’em on TV,

    and if two people claim to have committed the same crime, the case is throw out. (Sometimes they fade to black ๐Ÿ™‚

    Do you think Nelson watches TV?

  • Bob Collins

    I suppose that could happen, though I’m not sure if that would have significant impact on the civil case or not.

  • Bob Collins

    //I also read the vehicle was spotted at a Katy Perry concert.

    As far as I know, that’s one of the tips that was phoned in to Schewebel’s office. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    However, thanks to the Republican National Convention, there are 10 million cameras around the Xcel. I wonder if it would be possible that if you backed down the route of the car from camera to camera, you can figure out what garage she parked in and then there’d be security tapes, perhaps, of someone getting into that car?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob –

    Nice. ( Ever considered double dipping? Are there professional rules – written or de facto – against it ?:-)

  • Charlie Quimby

    I don’t mean to try the case in the comments section, but will just say that Riverside is an an usual exit for a well-to-do, middle-aged suburban mom to be taking late at night. Whatever the answer turns out to be will probably illuminate this case quite a bit.

  • Mark Gisleson

    I think in part of people seeing TV coverage, there’s a belief that this is a “dark” exit. No, it’s actually very well lit, wide enough for two lanes of vehicles and has shoulders on both sides of the ramp. All the construction is at the top of the ramp.

    My understanding is that Phanthavong’s car was on the north side of the exit. That means Senser had to crank the wheel hard to the right to strike Phanthavong who was so close to his car on the shoulder that the car was damaged when Senser hit and then dragged Phanthavong up the ramp some forty feet.

    I take that exit fairly often, and each time I do I try to figure out how anyone could hit someone on the north side of the ramp. A casual or inattentive driver would drift to the left, not the right.

    Minnesota needs to update its laws to make it a felony to leave the site of any accident. As a legal defense, pretending you didn’t know that a person and not a traffic cone left blood on your car is unspeakably lame and reeks of legal chicanery.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Mark Gisleson – A Google Maps extreme close-up view of the Riverside exit ramp visually confirms your extremely accurate written description of the site.

  • Bob Collins

    FYI, the Strib is running the op-ed piece from the employer of the victim that was referenced here a few days ago.

    Find it here.

    I don’t know why the references to me that were in the original version were taken out.

  • John

    With Levi Johnston around maybe TMZ will get involved and do some real reporting, and then we just need Bono to come back and pay his respects to the deceased’s family. This has all the makings of one of those nasty pseudo-celebrity shows, complete with crazy-eyed mug shot (brave little smile!) and bloody Mercedes in the garage.

    And really it’s just a working guy trying to keep his car moving, and he got run over by a big white Mercedes driven by someone who didn’t care enough to stop but still has rights. So sorry Mr. Phanthavong. Sounds like people really liked you.

  • Bonnie

    This is the story that sells big umbrella insurance policies to moms and pops all the time. That your kid is going to injure someone in a car accident…so you better buy this big fat insurance policy. Or you will lose everything. $ 50,000? They need a new attorney…

    And the insurance agent is telling them…lucky thing he isn’t alive, lucky for you he isn’t disabled for life.

    Yup. That’s the world we have made for ourselves, I guess.

  • David

    Bob says the key story angle is the constitutional rights one, but another important story has been the generally poor coverage of the case by the Twin Cities media. Until yesterday with the legal charges, there was no actual evidence that Amy Senser was behind the wheel and yet a Star Trib headline trumpeted that as fact. (The Press qualified it, with an “atty says” clause.)

    The facts are that we don’t know who was driving, and it could have been Joe Senser himself. Because of the Sensers’ silene, all we have relied upon are their attorney’s statements. Even though such comments should be judged with caution if not suspicion, they have been largely parroted by all the media. C’mon, why is an alleged perpetrator’s supposed “grief” part of nearly every story? Because her lawyer says? The media are getting used.

    Senser has a cozy relationship with reporters, especially the TV stations that use his bar all the time as backdrops for live “reports.” For me, a key question is how would this story be framed if an immigrant had run over one of the Sensers and was hiding behind the Constitution? I doubt few so-called reporters would describe the driver (in story after story) as grieving. With this sad tale, there are questions of sloppy journalism, objectivity, and even instititutional racism to consider.

  • Bob Collins

    // The facts are that we don’t know who was driving, and it could have been Joe Senser himself.

    Possibilities are not facts. The actual fact — if one were to write a story — would be that Mrs. Senser has said she was driving. Does that mean she was driving? Nope. It means she said she was.

    //For me, a key question is how would this story be framed if an immigrant had run over one of the Sensers and was hiding behind the Constitution?

    My guess is it wouldn’t be getting so much attention.

    //. With this sad tale, there are questions of sloppy journalism, objectivity, and even instititutional racism to consider.

    As near as I can tell, virtually every piece of information available has been relayed by the media. In saying the information — however shaky you may find it — coming from one side shouldn’t be told, you’re basically asking the media not to provide all the information available to the general public.

    Your asking that some be withheld and you’re asking the media to decide which information that should be.

    In other words, while objecting to “sloppy journalism, (lack of) objecticity,” you’re suggesting as a solution what is generally regarded as sloppy journalism and a lack of objectivity.

    Mr. Freeman’s public statements were distributed yesterday by the news media, Mr. Schwebel’s were distributed by the news media, and Mr. Nelson’s were distributed by the news media.

    As far as I know, every reporter working this story is trying to get sources to provide the key piece of information that would break it wide open.

    As Atty. Freeman pointed out yesterday, the problem he has as a prosecutor is that only two people seem to know what really happened. One of them is dead. And one isn’t talking.

    That’s the same problem reporters have.

  • Leslie Hanson

    Why wasn’t she charged with leaving the scene of an accident? I would think that the police would want people to know that it is a crime to leave an accident scene, and make that a prominent statement.

  • Bob Collins

    Scroll up. I posted the vehicular homicide or operation statute. Leaving the scene is part of the justification for the charge that was brought..

  • T. J. Larson

    “As far as I know, every reporter working this story is trying to get sources to provide the key piece of information that would break it wide open.” Or not, if their fellow media buddy is involved. Why not recuse yourself Bob or are you always just “above it all” by default?

    Rich white guy defends rich white family. Alert the media!

  • Bob Collins

    // Why not recuse yourself Bob or are you always just “above it all” by default?

    Isn’t that the truth. I mean, geez, they had news conferences yesterday to file charges against Mrs. Senser and nobody in the media showed up.

    Nobody took pictures of thee perp walk. No newspaper put it on the front page.

    Nobody carried a single comment from the family. No TV station not only would run the story, but run the story at the top of their newscast, with the image of the arrested woman plastered all over it.

    Proof indeed that the media is in the pocket of their media buddy.

    //Rich white guy

    Well-played, sir. Well-played, indeed.

  • Nikki

    I’m not sure if this is a ridiculous question, but how do they confirm whether or not alcohol was involved in the crash? She didn’t turn herself in until long after the incident.

    Like someone pointed out in the chat, I have no idea how charges would proceed “normally”.

  • Bob Collins

    Great question. I don’t see how they could from a blood alcohol perspective. I think a lot of this is going to come back to searching through credit card and cellphone records — which I understand they’re doing — in order to establish where everyone in the family was and when they were there.

  • patricia ward

    I am unhappy at the medias take on this story. I was not aware of it, till my daughter posted about it today.(my son is deployed so I do not watch, most news)

    The thing to me is it was a hit n run. whoever was driving is guilty of that. There may be mitigating circumstances, but that would only effect the sentencing.

    You seem to want me to sympathize with the person who committed the crime. That person has yet given me any reason to do so.

    They did not do a thing to try and help the person they harmed. Fear is not an excuse it is understandable but that is it.

    The driver should have done something anything would have been better than nothing.

    Then with the damage done to the car it was obvious that they would get caught so they called an attorney. That they feel bad is a given weather it is from the harm they caused at all I do not know.

    Who was driving is not known as a fact.

    That the news media has said little about the victim but much about the people who own the car is true.

    That the media is very careful as to how you word your stories as to try and garner sympathy one way or another in them is often true.

    So forgive me for being skeptical in the medias treatment of this.

    The fact that this argument is going on like this, should be telling the media that the public is aware of the way they do things. Where as tweet n such have many shortcomings, that it can be both better and worse.

    It also is going to show the medias presentations in a whole new light. I did not put names in this for a reason it is not important to the facts of what happened.

  • Bob Collins

    Let’s take these one at a time, Patricia. And also, I urge you to read the entire thread from the link I posted above because a lot of the explanation below is going to repeat that.

    //The thing to me is it was a hit n run. whoever was driving is guilty of that. There may be mitigating circumstances, but that would only effect the sentencing.

    It’s not that simple. The attorney is going to argue that she didn’t know she hit a man. If she hit a deer, for example, she’s not required to stop, she’s not required to report it to the police.

    That’s *their* argument and it’s up to the prosecutor to provide the evidence that she DID know she hit a man.

    That’s their job — both of them. It’s not my job. My job is to provide the facts as we know them and to provide a venue for other people to provide the facts as they know them.

    //You seem to want me to sympathize with the person who committed the crime.

    Again, I hear this and when I ask “why do you think I want to sympathize,” I don’t get specifics. As I’ve indicate numerous times, defending someone’s civil rights is far different from defending someone’s actions.

    I’ve taken no position that would qualify as defending the actions in this case and if someone can find where I have, I would be appreciative.

    //They did not do a thing to try and help the person they harmed. Fear is not an excuse it is understandable but that is it.

    And that IS it, as soon as it can be established that she was aware she hit a man. That’s what the trial is going to focus on. Did she know that?

    //The driver should have done something anything would have been better than nothing.

    There’s no question about that. If we hit strike someone with a car or otherwise injure a person, common decency alone says we stop and help. Absolutely.

    //Then with the damage done to the car it was obvious that they would get caught so they called an attorney.

    I don’t have the luxury in the position I have to state that as fact. There’s nothing to prevent anyone from using a supposition and believe it as fact. I’m not allowed to do that in this space.

    //Who was driving is not known as a fact.

    No, what we know as a fact is that Amy Senser says she was driving. It’s up to investigators and, subsequently, prosecutors to prove she wasn’t, if that is their belief.

    //That the news media has said little about the victim but much about the people who own the car is true.

    That’s absolutely not true. No story that I’ve seen has not mentioned Anousone Phanthavong. I’ve tried to mention him by name on first reference in every post and comment.

    Everything the attorney for the family has wanted to say, has been covered and reported by the media. If they should call another news conference this afternoon, every media organization in the city will be there.

    I notice today that in the story of Senser’s first court appearance, a picture of Mr. Phanthavon’s family is at the top of the page, and probably will grace tomorrow’s front page.

    The notion that the media has taken sides and has not reported the feelings of the family of Mr. Phanthavon when they’ve expressed them is utterly without merit.

    In this space, people are continuing to simply make the accusation, but they have not provided any evidence to justify the accusation.

    //That the media is very careful as to how you word your stories as to try and garner sympathy one way or another in them is often true.

    Based on what. Give me an example.

    //The fact that this argument is going on like this, should be telling the media that the public is aware of the way they do things.

    What it tells me is that once someone has a belief, they will look at all the data, and find that which reaffirms their belief, and reject as non-existent, that data which contradicts their belief.

    That’s why I request that when people continue to make the same accusation against the way the media has covered this case, they provide specifics.

    What EXACTLY do you believe the media should say — SPECIFICALLY — that it hasn’t said. That she did it, and everyone knows she did it? At this point, with what is known, that would be entirely unethical.

    //It also is going to show the medias presentations in a whole new light. I did not put names in this for a reason it is not important to the facts of what happened.

    I would disagree. If you make accusations, you have an obligation to provide substantiation.

  • patricia ward

    I meant in referring to the people involved with the car accident. not as to you or your witting specifically. my belief is about the media in general. I do not know the date but at one point the mews referred to the MBS (Minneapolis Blind Society.)as running a sweat shop. I worked on the line at times. this was a charged statement. people thought it was a bad environment. not true. it was a safe comfortable place to work. it is in the use of emotionally charged words that I get concerned with the media. some news articles do not seem to have anyone going over them pointing them out to the writers of non editorial items.

    My apologies for not spotting the “you” in my statement. I do not read you enough to accuse you of this.

    I do feel it is a big problem world wide in the news.

    Britney spears is one example, why was it news, or okay for them to publish information that anyone has a right to keep confidential? I never read that the ones who leaked the info were arrested, that was not big news, but papers and tv ran with Britney’s info. Info that they could not have gotten in a lawful manner . Nor was it mitigated by being important to anyone’s health. so their are two for you.

    I am not very good with, word composition. I apoligise for this.

  • Bob Collins

    // I meant in referring to the people involved with the car accident. not as to you or your witting specifically.

    Understood. Thanks. I have my beef with elements of the media. In fact the original post on this subject was about media policies.

    //I do not read you enough to accuse you of this.

    I’m not sure how to take this (grin). On the one hand, I don’t want you to read me enough so that you CAN accuse me of this. On the other hand, I’m not entirely opposed to having you stop in here more often. What if I called you every day and reminded you (grin)?

    In seriousness, your perspective is a good one, a valuable one, and I hope you’ll continue to share it.

    Also, we’re all thinking good thoughts for the same return of your boy.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob-

    “What it [ the multiple accusations that the media is biased towards the Sensers] tells me is that once someone has a belief, they will look at all the data, and find that which reaffirms their belief, and reject as non-existent, that data which contradicts their belief.”

    Thus the axiom “Don’t confuse me with the facts”.

    But the research that provided the findings that you are referring to dealt with objective facts,

    whereas the sense that the media is biased in this case could come from observance of things such as tone of voice and body language,

    which while most of us intuitively accurately interpret them, few of us who are not professionals in the field can explain how we know what we know.

    The only way to “prove” media bias is through a quantitative study on number of stories on specific topics, types of words used, sources, etc.

    (Don’t look at me.)

  • CaytieLaclare

    Seems strange that Brittany Senser has shut down all of her web sites including not being on facebook for a while. Said in Star Tribune that her licence was revoked. Why would that be?? Why would her Mom take the fall for her? Well, she and Joe are recovering ? from drinking booze etc and Brittany was on the verge of being a national name.

    I think we will hear more about a cover up. If so, Mrs, S. should be locked up for lying to the cops. Brittany needs to appear and talk to Tom Lyden..the number 9 is close to the story Brit….

    Wonder if Brittany is hiding out with Levi Johnston???