Driver who plowed into protesters in Minneapolis is charged with murder
By Neil Vigdor
The drunken driver who plowed a sport-utility vehicle into a crowd of protesters in Minneapolis on Sunday night, killing a woman and injuring several other people, was charged Wednesday with intentional second-degree murder, officials said.
The demonstrators had been protesting the death of Winston Smith, a Black man who was shot by members of a federal law enforcement task force this month, when, officials said, the driver, Nicholas Kraus, barreled into them in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Kraus, 35, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was intoxicated at the time and had been driving with a suspended license, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which said that he had been convicted several times of driving under the influence of alcohol.
The protesters pulled Kraus from the vehicle, and some of them began to strike him, the Minneapolis Police Department said.
Michael O. Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, said at a news conference Wednesday that there was clear evidence that Kraus had intentionally driven into the crowd.
“He said he saw the cars and the barricades and the people,” Freeman said. “And at that point in time, he intentionally accelerated and went right at them. He said afterwards that he might have hit a person or two while he was driving his vehicle.”
Officials said Kraus told investigators that he wanted to get over the barricade. They said there was no indication that he was motivated by politics or antipathy toward the protesters.
The attack on protesters has exacerbated the unrest in Minneapolis, which began last year after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody and continued this year with the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd.
It was not immediately clear if Kraus, who is scheduled to appear in court Thursday, had a lawyer.
The woman who was killed in the episode was identified Wednesday by the Hennepin County medical examiner as Deona Marie Erickson, 31. She also went by the name Deona Marie Knajdek and was known for her social justice activism.
She had two children and was a program manager for the Cottages Group, a residential services provider for vulnerable adults in the Twin Cities area.
“She was one of the most selfless people we have had the pleasure of knowing, she earned the respect and trust of those she served because of her true compassion for her work,” her employer said in a Facebook post Monday.
Erickson’s relatives told local media outlets that she would have turned 32 this week and was drawn to the cause of social justice.
“I knew that she was going to use her voice for this,” Deb Kenney, Erickson’s mother, told the television station WCCO. “And I’m proud of her for doing so.”
The episode, which occurred at just before 11:40 p.m. Sunday at West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South, spurred outrage among the crowd of people, who had gathered to protest police brutality and commemorate the death of Smith. He was fatally shot by members of a fugitive task force who had been trying to arrest him.
“I’ve never seen anything that horrendous,” Zachery James, 28, said from the scene, where several of the crowd were still gathered hours later.
James said the protesters had blockaded an area of the road, using their own cars, and that he and about 40 to 50 people had been “occupying peacefully” when he first heard a vehicle driving toward the group at high speed. He said it smashed into one of the protesters’ parked cars, which hit a woman, sending her flying several yards into a pole.
James described Erickson as “an uplifting, kind, beautiful spirit” who was always curious and considerate toward others. He said she had recently joined the Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis.
“She was just here for us and with us,” he said. “I watched her body fly.”