MINNEAPOLIS — The driver of a semitrailer who rolled into the midst of thousands of people who had gathered on a closed Minneapolis freeway to protest George Floyd’s death was apparently confused and didn’t mean to injure anyone, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday.
It appeared no one was hurt Sunday, authorities said, but some witnesses said a handful of people who were on Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis sought medical attention on their own. Authorities said they could not confirm that.
“He wasn’t stopping. He was beeping loudly and driving into a crowd of people,” Drew Valle, a special education teacher, told the Star Tribune. “That’s the same kind of malice that brought us here. It’s a callous disregard for someone’s humanity.”
Walz said Monday he was “breathless” as he watched the scene unfold and he thought he was going to see “dozens or hundreds” of people killed. But he said preliminary information suggests the driver somehow got ahead of traffic officials as they were closing the freeway down in sections. He noted the driver braked as he rolled past protesters.
“The driver was frustrated,” Walz said. “They close in sections and he got ahead of people.”
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said traffic cameras show the driver was already on the freeway before it was closed.
“From what we can tell in our interviews, we have not had any information that makes this seem like this was an intentional act,” Harrington said. “It wasn’t that he went around barricades to get at the protest.”
The freeway was among many shut down in the Minneapolis area for the second night in a row as officials imposed an 8 p.m. curfew and sought to make it more difficult for protesters to move around. Minneapolis has been the center of protests - some peaceful, some violent - for days over the death of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air and cried “I can’t breathe.”
Bystander video showed the crowd parting seconds before the semi rolled through, then the tanker truck gradually slowed and demonstrators swarmed the truck.
Harrington said Sunday that between 5,000 and 6,000 people were on the bridge at the time, and it initially appeared from traffic camera footage that the semitrailer was already on the freeway before barricades were set up at 5 p.m.
The driver was taken to a hospital for injuries after being pulled from the cab, but was quickly released and was in police custody on probable cause for assault.
Officer Derek Chauvin and the three others who were arresting Floyd have been fired but only Chauvin has been charged. He faces counts of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
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