Man who died when car plunged into river was ministry student

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2013 - 11:35 PM

Witnesses said Darron Luhrsen, 26, hit their car and sped off toward the Mississippi, where he drove into water and died.

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Emily Peterson scribbled “R.I.P.” near where Darron Luhrsen drove his car into the river.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • Star Tribune,

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Tomeka Wiley tailed the white car that rear-ended her Jeep in downtown Minneapolis, giving a 911 operator a play-by-play account Monday night as the swerving car barreled onto a park path near the Mississippi River — and then plunged into the water.

Still on the phone, she and her nephew dashed to the smashed fence near the Stone Arch Bridge and watched as the car sank below the surface.

“It went down so fast, like all we saw was the roof of the car and bubbles,” said Wiley, 33, of Columbia Heights. “Oh my God, it was just so scary.”

Authorities and the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said Tuesday night they were trying to determine whether the plunge was accidental or intentional and whether alcohol or drugs were involved.

Tuesday, the many friends and family of the car’s driver, Darron Luhrsen, were trying to come to grips with the shocking death of the ministry student from North Central University.

Wiley said, she, too, was saddened — and still in disbelief.

The trouble began several blocks away — and minutes earlier — from where Luhrsen crashed, police and Wiley said, with two hit-and-run accidents.

First, Luhrsen’s vehicle crashed into a traffic signal at 4th Street and Chicago Avenue S. In the second accident, the Pontiac Sunbird rear-ended Wiley at Washington and Park Avenues S.

Wiley had just picked up her 21-year-old nephew, Cary Williams Jr., when she noticed the Sunbird being driven erratically as she prepared to turn from Portland Avenue onto Washington.

“I saw him swerving behind me, and I said to my nephew, ‘Somebody’s drunk on Monday.’ ”

The car stopped at a red light, she said, adding that “he was coming real fast behind us, but then he stopped; he didn’t hit us the first time.”

The light turned green. She pulled ahead, but the Sunbird stayed put briefly. “When we were right by the Metrodome, I saw him coming real fast, swerving again, and then he hit the pole that’s right there” with a loud bang, she said.

She stopped at another red light, and as the Sunbird raced toward them, Wiley and Williams braced for a crash. The car stopped just in time.

“He was there for a minute,” she said. “All of a sudden I heard a car revving an engine, like when you push your pedal to the metal. It was like vroom and then boom! He slammed right into us, and he pivoted us around.”

Her vehicle spun and Wiley said she could have reached out and touched his car.

“I was facing him, and as he passed, I looked dead at him,” Wiley said, describing a white man in his 20s or 30s, wearing glasses.

“He looked so angry,” Wiley said.

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