A man who fired five shots through a school bus windshield along a Minneapolis interstate Tuesday, seriously wounding the 78-year-old driver, claims he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger.
A small child was also on the bus at the time but wasn’t injured.
Kenneth W. Lilly was charged in Hennepin County District Court with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. He was arrested Tuesday and released after posting bond after 8 p.m. Thursday. Lilly is scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday afternoon.
Lilly, 31, of St. Paul, said under police questioning that he fired at the stopped bus after a fender-bender during a snowstorm traffic jam out of fear for his safety, the charges said.
That contention was dismissed by Chief Deputy County Attorney Dave Brown. “We do not believe there is a self-defense claim based on the evidence we have received so far,” Brown said.
“The words to describe what went on here — you almost start running out of ways to describe this — are just horrific,” Brown said at a news conference Thursday.
The driver, whose identity is being withheld by police to protect his well-being, remained hospitalized in satisfactory condition Thursday at HCMC.
“The safety of the kids on my bus are my first priority, and I care for them as if they were my own grandkids,” he said in a statement. “I’m so thankful no one else was hurt.
“Please everyone be careful in this weather. We all want to get home safely.”
None of the shots struck the 8-year-old Minneapolis Public Schools student seated in the back of the small bus during what Police Chief Medaria Arradondo called a “very tragic and horrific incident.”
“Certainly this is very troubling to have someone that is providing safety transportation to our students being injured by gunfire,” the chief continued. For the girl to experience such violence is “certainly something that none of us, as Minnesotans, could ever tolerate.”
Brown stopped short of calling the highway confrontation an act of road rage.
“I don’t know if characterizing it in any way is helpful,” he said. “We filed some of the most serious charges we can … that’s really all I’ll characterize it as at this point.”
According to the criminal complaint, the bus driver was shot while behind the wheel about 2:15 p.m. as the gunman stood in front of the bus.
The gunfire grazed the driver in the head and wounded him in his left arm, according to the charges. Authorities would not reveal how close the shots came to hitting the girl.
The driver was “alert and conscious” when taken by emergency medical personnel from the scene ahead of surgery at HCMC for his injuries, said police spokesman John Elder.
The bus driver’s daughter told the Star Tribune a day after the shooting that her father “hasn’t slept since the incident. He’s in a lot of pain and needs to rest.”
She added that Lilly must have “some serious unresolved anger because this shooting was completely unprovoked.”
While the criminal complaint points out that Lilly was in a security guard’s uniform, Brown declined to discuss anything about the defendant’s employment. His mother said he works as a security guard.
Brown also did not disclose whether Lilly was carrying the weapon as part of his job or while holding a permit to carry a firearm. Brown did say that Lilly is not a licensed peace officer.
According to the charges:
The bus driver was trying to merge onto the interstate and collided with Lilly’s car. The driver said he was unaware of the collision, but state troopers did see paint from the bus on Lilly’s vehicle.
Lilly soon stopped on the interstate and walked toward the bus that was stopped behind him. He shouted at the driver while trying to get onboard. The driver refused because there was a child on the bus.
As Lilly walked toward the driver’s side corner of the bus, the driver appeared to be trying to slowly pull into traffic, the complaint said. Traffic camera video showed Lilly walking to the front of the bus and “retreating to a safe spot” before shooting.
Elder said the troopers arrived within a minute or so and arrested Lilly, who was among several people to call 911. A 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun was taken from him by a trooper.
Lilly does not appear to have a criminal record in Minnesota beyond minor traffic violations. Brown said the maximum sentence for attempted murder is 20 years in prison, though state sentencing guidelines call for less time than that. Once the investigation is complete, prosecutors could look into aggravating factors, such as the presence of the child on the bus.
Brown said he’s grateful not only that the driver wasn’t killed and the child wasn’t injured, but also that no one else was hurt.
“These bullets travel an awful long way, and the thought that another innocent bystander is hit by one of these bullets just scares everybody,” he said.
Reports to the State Patrol of civilians drawing weapons during traffic incidents in Minnesota have been on the rise.
The patrol reported 119 such incidents in 2015, 153 in 2016, 170 in 2017 and 179 in 2018.