A trooper tried to pull over the suspect just before the crash, the State Patrol said.
One minute after a state trooper began to chase an erratic driver early Sunday, the suspect's car slammed into two other vehicles in north Minneapolis, killing a young mother and her two young children.
The victim was Amanda Jean Thomas, 29, of Fridley, and her two young sons, according to State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske. Friends and state birth records identified the boys as Andre, 12, and Averon, 3 months.
The suspect, identified by Roeske as Rufus Onel Victor, 29, suffered minor injuries and was arrested and taken to the Hennepin County jail after trying to flee the crash scene on foot, Roeske said.
It appeared as though Victor was chemically impaired at the time of the crash, Roeske said, but blood test results were not immediately available.
Court records show that Victor, who was driving a stolen car, has a long criminal history that includes burglary, receiving stolen property, car theft and driving without a license.
Amanda Thomas was "a happy, outgoing, family-oriented woman who was devoted to her children," said longtime family friend Mary Svoboda of Fridley. Svoboda said Thomas, who was Jewish, and her sons had been driving home from a Hanukkah celebration at a friend's home when their car was hit.
Svoboda said she watched Amanda, a childhood friend of her own now-grown children, "grow up to be a lovely young lady" during the years their families lived across the street from each other on 18 1/2 Avenue NE. in Minneapolis.
They had remained close friends, she said, and Svoboda had just spoken to Thomas, a single mom, on Friday about plans to take on day care for Thomas' baby once she began a new job in Fridley.
Andre was "a very well-behaved boy" and Averon was "a happy, bubbly baby," Svoboda said. "Amanda loved them so much. This is very, very hard."
Thomas' mother, who lives in Oregon, was flying to Minneapolis Sunday night, Roeske said. Svoboda said Thomas' father, a Minneapolis police officer, died several years ago.
Victims' car was crushed
The crash happened about 12:45 a.m. Sunday after the unidentified state trooper tried to pull over a car being driven erratically on westbound Interstate 94 in Minneapolis. The driver fled, exiting the freeway at Dowling Avenue N. and turning east, taking a hard right and then speeding south on N. 2nd Street, said Roeske. When he ran a red light at the intersection of W. Broadway, he slammed into Thomas' car, crushing it.
"It's quite obvious how all three people died in the vehicle," said Roeske.
The crash took place about a minute after the chase began and the patrol car was about three blocks behind Victor at the time of the crash, Roeske said. The trooper had been losing ground during the chase because he slowed as Victor entered city streets, said Roeske, who described a chase route that crosses through approximately 10 intersections.
State Patrol policies give troopers discretion on how and when to conduct a chase, added Roeske, with troopers constantly evaluating the risk to the public.
"It was just a matter of moments from when it began to when it ended," said Roeske. "When you look at this situation, the trooper was already starting to back off a bit."
The trooper then stopped pursuing Victor and went to the aid of the crash victims.
Amanda and Andre died at the scene, authorities said. Averon died a short time later. Victor's car also struck a third vehicle, a Buick Rendezvous SUV, but nobody in that vehicle was seriously hurt, Roeske said.
After the crash, Victor abandoned his car, a Honda Accord, which had been reported as stolen, and ran. He was found by a state trooper a short time later hiding along nearby railroad tracks.
A State Patrol canine, beginning at the crash scene, also followed Victor's track to the spot where he was found, the patrol said.
The Honda Accord and Thomas' Chevy Caprice were taken to the State Patrol district office in Golden Valley. The investigation will continue.
"This was a horrible tragedy," said Roeske. "It's incredibly difficult for a state trooper to come across a scene like this, especially one involving children."
Said Svoboda: "Amanda was so full of life, and she loved those children. It hasn't quite sunk in with me that she and those two children are gone."
Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report. Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747