Driver who drove into St. Paul bar was passenger in fatal Dinkytown hit and run

The driver, a Little Canada man, was a passenger in high-profile Dinkytown hit-and-run in 2011.

A Little Canada man recently discharged from probation for drunken driving has been charged with fleeing a state trooper, weaving through downtown St. Paul at high speeds and slamming into a popular Lowertown bar and restaurant early Friday, injuring five patrons.

Matthew M. Damman, 31, crashed into the Bulldog Bar at 6th and Wacouta streets about 12:07 a.m. Friday and had to be helped out of the minivan he was driving because he was “very groggy and lethargic,” according to charges filed in Ramsey County District Court.

Damman took a breath test at the scene and registered a blood alcohol level of 0.022, according to the charges. The legal limit in Minnesota is 0.08.

Damman faces one count of fleeing a peace officer and five counts of criminal vehicular operation.

According to the complaint:

A driver called 911 to report that a minivan was straddling the centerline and driving at erratic speeds on Hwy. 61, almost striking a wall. A state trooper located the vehicle on westbound I-94 near Mounds Boulevard. The van headed toward the 6th Street off-ramp, weaving on its way before accelerating away from the trooper’s squad car.

The trooper activated his lights as the minivan exited onto 6th Street. The minivan accelerated, made a few turns and drove over a curb. As Damman headed west on 6th Street, he tried turning right onto Wacouta Street and crashed into the Bulldog.

Damman was found slumped over toward the passenger seat and unresponsive, the charges said. He was the sole occupant. The state trooper smelled alcohol on Damman, and his speech was slurred and his eyes were watery.

“My sugar is [expletive] up,” Damman told the trooper, adding that it was the third time in six months that his sugar was a problem, according to the complaint.

“Medics later determined that Damman’s blood sugar levels were well below normal,” the charges said.

Damman told the trooper he had a beer in Hastings, and had smoked marijuana five hours earlier. He also said he saw the trooper’s lights and fled, the charges said.

“Damman said he was aware that his blood sugar was low and he needed to eat some food,” the charges said.

Damman and three of the injured bar patrons were taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, treated in the emergency room and released, according to a hospital spokeswoman and the complaint.

Passenger in 2011 crash

Friday’s charges came three years after Damman was witness to far more tragic events involving drinking and driving when he was a passenger in a vehicle that ran over a group of University of Minnesota students after bar closing in Dinkytown.

The April 2011 crash killed Benjamin Van Handel, 23, of Appleton, Wis., and severely injured Katelynn Hanson and Sarah Bagley, both 21 at the time.

The driver, Tim Bakdash, was later convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison after a trial that featured Damman as the star prosecution witness.

Though Damman had been a passenger in the car, he didn’t admit to Minneapolis police that he was there until six months after the crash. He later acknowledged during the trial that he jumped out of Bakdash’s car after the crash and never told anyone, including police, that he was a passenger because he was afraid of being implicated in the incident.

Since 2001, Damman has committed at least 10 traffic violations in Minnesota; twice he was convicted of drunken driving, according to court records. He was discharged from probation March 28 for a 2012 third-degree DWI conviction where his two preliminary breath tests registered 0.101 and 0.096.

In 2009, a warrant was issued for his arrest for failing to provide documentation to his probation officer that he had completed or enrolled in “Driving With Care Level II/Therapy” for a 2008 DWI conviction.

Meanwhile, Matt Lokowich, who opened the Bulldog about 11 years ago, said Friday that the customers hurt in the crash “were sitting at the table right next to the front window. It could have been a lot worse. We’re very fortunate.”

Lokowich arrived at the bar about an hour after the crash and said he was told “it sounded like a bomb going off.”

The Bulldog reopened for business at 11 a.m. Friday.

 

Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report. chao.xiong@startribune.com 612-270-4708 • @ChaoStrib pwalsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482

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