An 83-year-old man who crashed his van into a Minneapolis bus shelter and injured five people was charged Friday but the prosecutor said it’s unlikely he’ll face a prison term, angering a community activist who said the driver should be charged with a hate crime.
Black activists have questioned whether the crash in July was intentional because the driver, George Reeves Jensen, is white and the five people he hit are all black.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Jensen was charged with five counts of criminal vehicular operation and that evidence doesn’t support more serious charges.
“This is a strange case, and this is a place where Minnesota statutes seem lacking,” Freeman told reporters. Criminal vehicular operation is a felony carrying a maximum five-year sentence, but under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, anyone convicted of the crime who doesn’t have a criminal record would serve no prison time, he said.
“Most judges (are) not going to give an 83-year-old man prison time if he doesn’t have a prior criminal record,” Freeman said. And to win an attempted murder conviction, prosecutors would have to prove that Jensen, of Champlin, intended to kill someone, Freeman said.
“So frankly, we didn’t have intent,” Freeman said.
Community activist Spike Moss challenged Freeman at the news conference, calling the complaint “bogus charges” and questioning why Jensen was not charged with attempted murder or a hate crime.
“We’re still waiting on justice. What would happen to us if we’d have done it?” Moss asked.
According to the criminal complaint, witnesses told investigators they saw Jensen pull his van in front of the bus stop and talk to three women. A witness said it appeared Jensen was trying to pay one of the women but none were interested.
The complaint says Jensen sideswiped a Metro Transit bus and then backed into the bus before slowly veering onto the curb and ramming into the bus shelter.
Jensen told investigators he was in the area to go to a farmers market and was going to get coffee at a McDonald’s. He said he was going to turn around in a liquor store parking lot when he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, the complaint said. While Jensen said he knows the area is known for prostitution and that he talks to women there sometimes, he told investigators he did not think that he stopped to talk to anyone that day.
Jensen had no alcohol in his system and passed a police field test for sobriety, Freeman said. Investigators are still looking for the van’s “black box” to see how fast the vehicle was going, but authorities believe it was going below the speed limit when it struck the shelter, the prosecutor said.
Two of the victims are still undergoing hospital treatment, Freeman said. According to the complaint, one victim suffered multiple pelvic fractures resulting in significant blood loss as well as fractured ribs and vertebra, while another suffered fractured ribs, a spleen laceration, broken legs, a scalp cut and a bruised lung.
“We’ve waited this long for some charges, and we get nothing,” Moss told Freeman. “And people are going to carry (those) injuries for the rest of their life, and be traumatized the rest of their life.”
Jensen is scheduled to make his first court appearance Sept. 23. A message left on his home phone was not immediately returned Friday. Court records do not list an attorney who could speak on Jensen’s behalf.
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