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Driver Charged With Vehicular Homicide in Death of Seattle Protester

2020-07-09 01:52:47

A Seattle man who the authorities said drove into a protest on a closed section of Interstate 5 over the weekend, killing one demonstrator, was charged on Wednesday with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving.

The man, Dawit Kelete, 27, is being held with bail set at $1.2 million and is expected to remain in jail, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said. Two of the charges, vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, are felonies, a spokesman for the prosecuting attorney’s office said.

Mr. Kelete could face more than 13 years in prison, said the spokesman, Casey McNerthney.

The Washington State Patrol and the F.B.I. were still investigating the matter, and Mr. Kelete could face additional charges, according to a statement from the prosecutor’s office.

The authorities said that Mr. Kelete was driving a white Jaguar XJL when he drove into the demonstrators “at a high rate of speed” early on Saturday morning, striking two protesters.

One of them, Summer Taylor, 24, of Seattle, died later that day at the hospital. Another protester, Diaz Love, 32, of Portland, Ore., was hospitalized in serious condition.

Diaz Love, who, as Summer Taylor did, uses nonbinary pronouns, shared a hospital selfie on Facebook this week with a message saying that they were “alive and stable.”

“I cannot believe Summer was murdered,” Mx. Love wrote. “If they thought this murder would make us back down. They are very wrong. Very wrong.”

The protesters were part of the Black Femme March, according to a charging document filed by the prosecutor’s office. Demonstrators had placed three vehicles on the interstate to form a barricade.

“Most of the group was directly south of these vehicles in the travel lanes,” the prosecutor’s office said.

The Jaguar that Mr. Kelete was driving was seen on security video going the wrong way up the Stewart Street exit ramp to enter the interstate around 1:35 a.m., according to the office.

Mr. Kelete “drove at freeway speeds in lane one toward the barricade of three vehicles” and eventually “continued driving at freeway speeds on the shoulder,” passing the barricade of cars, the prosecutor’s office said.

“Before him were running pedestrians,” and Mr. Kelete “veered sharply left and directly into” two demonstrators “who were not able to run off the road,” the office said.

A sobriety test indicated that Mr. Kelete was not under the influence at the time, according to a police report. He told the authorities that he had worked until 10 p.m. and that “he remained after work since it was a family business,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Kelete’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, told The Associated Press that Mr. Kelete was “remorseful” over the incident and that “there’s absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever.”

Mr. Kelete lives with his parents in Seattle, Mr. Browne said.

“I don’t know what happened, but I’m very sorry,” Mr. Kelete’s father, Tekie Kelete, told KOMO-TV. “I’m very sorry to the girl, her family. It’s very sad.”

Mr. Browne did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In 2015, Mr. Kelete was cited for a “peace and order violation,” the prosecutor’s office said. He was also involved in two car crashes that resulted in no injuries, in 2013 and 2017, the office said.

The episode followed dozens of similar incidents involving cars striking demonstrators at protests against racism and police brutality, which have taken place across the country in the weeks since George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

It was not always clear which incidents were premeditated and which were prompted by rage as drivers found their routes blocked by protesters.

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.


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