Senser civil case put on hold until criminal investigation ends

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2011 - 6:20 AM

A Hennepin County district judge ordered a halt to the proceedings until the criminal investigation ends.

Civil court proceedings are on hold for at least four months in the wrongful death lawsuit against Joe and Amy Senser for the hit-and-run death of a Roseville man.

Hennepin District Judge Bruce Peterson ordered that neither side may gather evidence in the civil case while the criminal investigation continues. His decision grants a request by the Sensers' attorney, Brian Wood, that proceedings be stayed until Feb. 6.

Amy Senser was charged with felony criminal vehicular homicide in the Aug. 23 death of Anousone Phanthavong, 38, whom she struck and killed as he filled his car with gas on the Interstate 94 ramp at Riverside Avenue just east of downtown Minneapolis. Phanthavong was a popular chef at True Thai restaurant.

Amy Senser, wife of former Minnesota Vikings star Joe Senser, maintains she didn't know she struck Phanthavong and left the scene. The next day, investigators were directed to a Mercedes SUV at the Senser's Edina home that was damaged and had blood on the hood.

Several days later, Amy Senser admitted she was behind the wheel of the vehicle. She has since invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to speak with investigators.

Before the judge's order, Jim Schwebel, the attorney for Phanthavong's family, had planned to take depositions, including from the Sensers and their daughters. He vows to appeal.

"We believe the court's action is unprecedented in depriving this innocent family of critical information," he said.

A court hearing initially scheduled for Tuesday in Senser's criminal case has also been rescheduled to Dec. 14, said Eric Nelson, her defense attorney. Nelson said investigators are still gathering evidence and have not completed an accident reconstruction.

Senser was charged Sept. 15, but the complaint shed little light on what happened before or after the crash. Senser has only appeared in court once, the day after she was charged. She has not entered a plea.

"You can't enter a plea if you don't know what evidence there is against you," Nelson said.

Phanthavong's family sued Senser on Sept. 6. Schwebel said at the time that the lawsuit was about finding answers. He said Peterson's order could impede the civil case.

The unfairness, Schwebel said, is magnified because the Sensers have the right to access evidence investigators gather "while we just have to sit on our hands."

"While there's tension between the rights of a criminal defendant and the rights of an innocent victim, historically the courts have allowed for both actions to proceed simultaneously," Schwebel said.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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