Mpls. police: Driver meant to kill

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2011 - 11:02 AM

They say Timothy Bakdash drove on the sidewalk to run down a man he had argued with at a Dinkytown bar.

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At Hennepin County Courthouse, Hennepin County Mike Freeman discussed the case of Timothy Bakdash who is charged with second-degree murder in the incident that killed Ben Van Handel, 23, an economics major who was set to graduate next month.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Angered by an argument in a Dinkytown bar, police said, Timothy Ayman Bakdash got his car, mowed down a group of walkers and drove away, leaving one student hurt and another mortally wounded.

While the origins of the argument remained murky Monday, Minneapolis Police Capt. Amelia Huffman said Bakdash's lack of remorse was clear. She said a witness told police that Bakdash said he "hit those people and didn't feel bad about it."

"I wish I could say we talked to a lot of remorseful people," Huffman said. "Unfortunately, we don't, and this case is not an exception."

Bakdash, 29, of Roseville, was charged with second-degree intentional murder and two counts of second-degree felony assault Monday for the April 15 crash that killed student Benjamin Van Handel, 23, and left one other student severely injured.

Bakdash, described in a criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court as having been drinking that night, was arrested April 20, hours after Van Handel, an economics major from Appleton, Wis., died of severe brain injuries.

Bakdash remains in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $1 million bail. He will make his first court appearance Tuesday afternoon.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office intends to present the case to a grand jury for potential first-degree premeditated murder charges. If convicted of that charge, Bakdash would face a life sentence without parole.

"That way, when the door closes, he's gone," Freeman said.

Telephone calls to relatives of both Bakdash and Van Handel were not returned.

According to charges, Bakdash told someone identified in court papers as B.B. that he had gotten in a "car accident" at 2 a.m. April 15 after he had gone to the Library Bar in Minneapolis. Bakdash had "quite a few drinks" and got into a fight with two men and two women, according to the person's account. Charges say he continued to argue with one of the men outside the bar, and the man eventually walked away.

Bakdash got into his car and drove the wrong way down 5th Street SE. and onto the sidewalk, where he struck the group of students, charges say. The unnamed person's account says Bakdash admitted he intended to hit and kill three of the people there but struck a fourth he didn't mean to hit.

"The best we understand now is [Van Handel] was involved in the altercation in the Library Bar,'' Freeman said Monday. "What is unclear to us is that it appears, to date, the other two individuals that were harmed were in a different bar and just happened to be in the way when the car came."

Also struck were 21-year-old students Katelynn Hanson and Sarah Bagley. Van Handel was walking separately from them in the same area.

Hanson, her boyfriend, Joseph Bailin, 22, and Bagley had been at the Kitty Cat Klub celebrating their recent acceptance into graduate school to study architecture. Bagley told officers and paramedics she could not feel her legs, and according to charges, suffered "very serious" injuries to her left leg. She was unable to walk at the time charges were filed.

Huffman said it's unclear what caused the original scuffle, other than "an altercation of bruised feelings," adding that Bakdash climbed into his car almost immediately after the dispute.

"This was a case where he left the altercation with the intention to catch up with the man who became the victim and he sought him out," she said.

A witness identified in court papers as L.F. told police she was walking with Van Handel on the sidewalk when she heard a car engine revving behind them, charges said. She said she looked behind her and saw vehicle headlights heading toward them. She said she saw the car on the sidewalk and tried to grab Van Handel by the arm just before he was hit. She said Van Handel was carried on the hood of the car about 50 feet, struck his head against a utility pole, flew into the air and landed in the intersection, the charges said. He never regained consciousness.

Tracing the car

Huffman said several people knew Bakdash and came forward with information that led police to the car.

According to the complaint against Bakdash:

The witness identified as B.B. told police that Bakdash sold him the car for $1,500. He said he had heard Bakdash speaking with his mother, Diane Bakdash, on the telephone the day of the crash and that he heard her tell her son that he "had to get rid of the car that night." She also said she would sign the title, charges said. B.B. told police he picked up the vehicle and took it to his garage stall to begin repairs. He said he received the title, which had Diane Bakdash's signature. He told police the windshield was smashed and there were dents in the vehicle.

Huffman said Diane Bakdash, 66, was arrested on her way to visit her son Monday night on a warrant charging her with aiding an offender, a felony. She was being held in the Hennepin County Jail Monday night pending an initial court appearance.

According to Minnesota court records, Bakdash pleaded guilty to third-degree drunken driving, a gross misdemeanor, in Ramsey County in February 2009. He was sentenced to a year in jail, with all but 30 days stayed, and two years' probation. He also had to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment. In exchange for his plea, charges of driving after revocation and aggravated third-degree drunken driving were thrown out.

His probation ended six weeks before the hit-and-run.

Freeman said the case remains under investigation and wouldn't comment on whether the assault charges might rise to attempted murder.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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