Brittani Senser tells of being 'furious' after fatal I-94 crash

On the first full day of testimony, Brittani Senser talked about what led Amy Senser to come forward.

Brittani Senser was suspicious when she received a cryptic note from her father on Aug. 25, 2011.

" 'Brits, remember, things aren't always as they seem,' " former Vikings star Joe Senser wrote in a text message to his daughter, according to her testimony Tuesday in Amy Senser's criminal vehicular homicide trial.

"That's when I thought there was an issue," she told the jury, saying her father later told her the details about the crash.

On the trial's first full day of testimony Tuesday, Brittani Senser shed light on her parents' evasiveness in the days before her stepmother, Amy Senser, came forward as the driver of the Mercedes-Benz SUV that struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, as he was filling his stalled car with gas on an Interstate 94 exit ramp the night of Aug. 23.

Earlier Tuesday, sobbing members of Phanthavong's family left the courtroom when a forensic pathologist testified about the dozens of injuries that killed him, with photographs of his bloody body.

Under objections by the defense, Brittani Senser, 28, told the jury she didn't learn about the fatal crash until two days later, when her father broke the news the day he sent the text message. Nearly a week after that, she was "furious" when she learned Amy Senser still hadn't turned herself in.

Amy Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, directed the State Patrol to the Mercedes the day after the crash, but no one had come forward as the driver.

Brittani Senser testified that she assumed her stepmother took responsibility right away. When Joe and Amy Senser met with the State Patrol on Aug. 31, she asked her father via text message whether they took her into custody.

"Took who?" she said he responded.

After headlines blared that the Sensers were somehow connected to the crash but that it was unclear who was driving, she was "furious," she testified.

"I called Dad," she told prosecutor Deborah Russell on Tuesday. "I said, 'They're speculating it's me.' "

Then she texted Amy Senser and told her to come forward.

On Sept. 1, she called Nelson.

"I said, 'If you and Amy and my dad don't say who was driving, I will,' " she testified.

That day, Nelson faxed to authorities a single-sentence notarized admission by Amy Senser that she was the driver.

Amy Senser, who says she doesn't realize she hit someone, faces three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide -- one for leaving the scene, a second for failing to call for help and the third over negligence. The jury may also consider a lesser charge of careless driving.

Joe Senser was not in the courtroom during his daughter's testimony Tuesday because he likely will be called to testify later.

Emotions ran high

Brittani Senser, a south Minneapolis resident and mother of an 8-year-old daughter, broke down immediately when she took the stand, struggling to spell her name for the court reporter.

She glanced at her stepmother a few times and quickly regained her composure when she spoke about how her father had married Amy Senser when she was 5 and how she and her sister Ashlee, 26, had a good relationship with the Sensers and their half sisters, who are 15 and 14.

Since the accident, she said family relationships have been strained but she said she's occasionally visited the family and talks to her father daily.

Under cross-examination, Nelson pressed her on the personal and professional support that the Sensers have given her in her pursuit to become a singer. She testified that at the time of the crash she was pursuing other types of entertainment, such as reality shows.

"It's no good for a celebrity to get into trouble, is it?" he said, hinting at the motives for Brittani Senser to compel her stepmother to turn herself in.

She'll take the stand again Wednesday, when the cross-examination will continue.

Graphic photos

Earlier Tuesday, Phanthavong's relatives quietly wiped their eyes and glanced downward, while others looked on stoically as a forensic pathologist detailed in photographs the injuries the True Thai chef sustained on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp. Earlier that day, they'd seen photos of his body, face down, arms splayed, his shoes knocked off his feet, the night he was killed.

They sat directly behind Amy Senser, who also wiped her eyes as Dr. Sarah Meyers testified that Phanthavong suffered between 25 and 30 injuries, including broken bones and a lacerated liver. She told Russell that he likely died within seconds or up to two minutes. The photos showed Phanthavong's injuries were largely on the right side of his body, including nine broken ribs. The white "Laos" T-shirt he was wearing was soaked in blood on the right side.

Jury sent out

Judge Daniel Mabley sent the jury out of the courtroom while Nelson questioned Meyers about the level of cocaine in Phanthavong's bloodstream. Nelson had previously moved to have the evidence admitted into trial, but Mabley denied it. Nelson wanted the evidence for the record in the event of an appeal.

Meyers testified that Phanthavong had a "relatively high" amount of cocaine in his system and that he had ingested it shortly before he died.

Mabley on Tuesday denied Nelson's second motion to allow the testimony, saying the simple fact that there was cocaine in Phanthavong's system was not enough to prove he was acting erratically when he was struck.

Other witnesses included Cindi Phanthavong, who testified that her uncle, known as "Ped," worked six days a week and was on his way to make sure his boss, Anna Fieser, was OK closing the restaurant.

Anwar Albuzz, a clerk at Winner Gas on 25th Avenue S., testified he was closing the gas station at 11 p.m. when he saw a man, later identified as Phanthavong, knock on the door asking to fill up a container with gas. Albuzz turned on the pumps and helped Phanthavong fill the canister. Phanthavong then paid him for about 2 gallons' worth of gas, he said.

Less than 10 minutes later, a flood of 911 calls came from the exit ramp.

asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 mckinney@startribune.com • 612-673-7329

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    Brittani Senser, 28, described her fear of being blamed for the death of Anousone Phanthavong as her stepmother at first declined to step forward. A doctor gave graphic descriptions of Phanthavong's injuries, causing two of his relatives to rush from the courtroom.

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