After a long day of work at a St. Paul barbershop, Lashay Whittaker headed home to his wife and two children late Friday.
He didn’t make it.
A domestic assault suspect fleeing police in a van came barreling down an alley in the Frogtown neighborhood, striking Whittaker’s sedan broadside with such force that it was sheared in half.
The 41-year-old family man from Mounds View didn’t survive.
“It was a freak accident. Wrong place at the wrong time,” said his father-in-law, Thomas Echoles. “He was just a sweetheart.”
Authorities say Whittaker was an innocent victim in a grim drama that began blocks away with a machete-wielding suspect who allegedly threatened a teenager before speeding off in a van.
Just before midnight Friday, officers were called to the 800 block of Blair Avenue. A 911 caller reported that her boyfriend had tried to stab her 14-year-old son with a machete, then raced out the door with the weapon. He hopped into a white van and peeled down the alley with his lights off.
The suspect nearly slammed into a responding squad car, said police spokesman Steve Linders. He did not stop when the officer activated his emergency lights. Police lost sight of him. Then they heard a thunderous boom.
The suspect, later identified as Shawn M. Konder, 26, of St. Paul, crashed just a few blocks away, slamming into Whittaker’s stopped vehicle in the 800 block of Sherburne Avenue. He fled on foot but was quickly detained and taken to Regions Hospital for treatment of a cracked sternum and a broken clavicle.
He then was jailed on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide and terroristic threats, police said.
‘My heart just sank’
The crash was so violent that a nearby garage collapsed on impact, its roof sagging diagonally with debris. Shattered glass and scraps of metal littered Victoria Street as responders rushed to help the critically injured motorist.
Whittaker, a longtime barber at the Grooming House on Selby Avenue, died at Regions before his family could arrive. He left behind his wife of 15 years, Ankquinet Whittaker, and two children, ages 8 and 14.
On Saturday, those closest to him gathered at his Mounds View home to remember the man they say loved to barbecue and whose smile could light up a room.
“He knew everybody,” Echoles said. “He was a fun-loving guy.”
At the crash scene, friends and extended relatives hung red and black balloons on a street sign next to St. Paul Fellowship Church, steps away from where Whittaker’s life was cut short.
Yellow police tape cordoned off the garage that city officials said couldn’t be saved. In the light of day, St. Paul fire inspector A.J. Neis dug through the structure, preparing it for demolition.
“We don’t want this to be a public nuisance,” he said. “Especially now that the weather is warming up, we don’t want kids crawling through it.”
A few hours later, it was razed.
Tasha, a neighbor in the adjacent apartment building who asked that her last name not be used to protect her family’s privacy, said she overheard a loud crunching noise around midnight and ran to the window to find police lights and sirens.
When she walked out a back door that abuts the alley, she saw a vehicle torn in pieces.
“It literally looked like someone threw a grenade inside the car,” she said. “My heart just sank because you knew that there was no way the person could have survived that.”
Authorities called the crash a senseless act that ripped an innocent man from his family.
“This type of tragedy is 100 percent avoidable,” Linders said.