A family’s exhausting three-year battle seeking justice for Jessica Hanson, who was killed by a hit-and-run motorist in south Minneapolis, came to a close Tuesday with a 39-month prison sentence for the driver.
Abdirahman Abdi Ali pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide for running down the 24-year-old bicyclist on a July night in 2013. He ran through a stop sign at 28th Street and Pleasant Avenue without his headlights on, struck Hanson and left her behind as she struggled for her life.
Ali turned himself in two days later, after police found the vehicle with the help of witnesses. He claimed someone had been shooting at the car.
“In my eyes, what Ali did was no different than going into a shopping center and shooting a gun and killing a person,” Hanson’s father, Jerome Hanson, said during an emotional sentencing hearing Tuesday, adding that “39 months isn’t enough for what you did and what you didn’t do.”
About 30 family members and friends traveled from as far away as Fergus Falls and Florida to honor Hanson, a Hoffman native, both at the hearing and at the scene of the crash. They recalled her photography talents, passion for travel and trying new foods, and hopes of making vegetable gardening more accessible to the poor.
“Jessica is the embodiment of all things inclusive [and] loving about humanity,” Chad Kummrow, Hanson’s cousin, told the court. Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” played in the courtroom as attendees and Ali watched a slide show of Hanson’s life.
The family criticized the agonizing three-year ordeal they endured to conclude the case. Ali was represented by four different attorneys, one of whom died of cancer during an initial trial — resulting in a mistrial. Family members would travel hours to Minneapolis for hearings only to have some canceled at the last minute.
“This was an unbelievable case as far as how long it took to reach closure,” said Judge Fred Karasov, who apologized to the family.
Ali ultimately accepted a plea deal rather than going to trial. Speaking to Ali, Karasov said, “You only turned yourself in when you knew the police were looking for you.”
Ali is no stranger to the courts. He has been convicted of illegally carrying a pistol in public, giving a false name to a police officer and disorderly conduct. He did not have a valid driver’s license when he hit Hanson.
As recently as this May, Ali was cited for driving 87 miles per hour on an interstate in a 70 mile-per-hour zone. He told the officer he was traveling to Texas on a road trip.
Hanson’s mother, Natalie Hanson, a state trooper, listed Ali’s other driving infractions, such as driving without insurance and driving after suspension. “All these charges should have gotten his attention, but didn’t,” she said in court.
Recalling the moment she learned of the crash, she said, “that phone call literally sucked the air out of my lungs … [and] dropped me to my knees.”
Ali said he was sorry for the crash and observed that he and Hanson were about the same age.
“I want you to know I feel terrible for your loss,” Ali, 27, said, adding that he is a better person than he was three years ago.
He has maintained that he was evading gunfire when he struck Hanson. “All I was doing was protecting my life that night,” he said.
Hanson was one of six bicyclists killed in Minnesota in 2013. Last year, there were nearly 900 crashes between bikes and cars, resulting in 10 deaths, according to recent data from the Department of Public Safety.