Senser's wife was driver in deadly hit-and-run accident

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2011 - 1:09 AM

Amy Senser was identified as the driver of the car, but other aspects of the Aug. 23 accident remained unclear. The victim's family is expected to file a wrongful-death suit next week.

Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings player Joe Senser, was identified Friday as the driver in the hit-and-run that killed a Roseville man last week. But the circumstances behind the crash remained a mystery.

Eric Nelson, the Senser family's attorney, continued to refuse to discuss the accident, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the State Patrol's investigation. He said the family isn't trying to conceal information and that details will become public through possible criminal charges or a civil suit.

That suit, for wrongful death, is expected to be filed Tuesday by the family of Anousone Phanthavong, the Roseville chef who was struck and killed by Senser's SUV while he was filling his car's empty gas tank on an interstate exit ramp in Minneapolis the night of Aug. 23.

Amy Senser, 45, hasn't been arrested, but if she is charged with a crime she will turn herself in to authorities, Nelson said. Her driving history shows no previous infractions except for one minor traffic ticket.

The Senser family informed the State Patrol the day after the accident that a Mercedes-Benz SUV belonging to Joe Senser had been involved, but until Friday they had refused to publicly identify Amy Senser as the driver.

Nelson said that was because of what he called complex and overlapping investigation issues and the need to first clarify some legal matters.

Before Senser's name was released Friday afternoon, attorney Jim Schwebel, representing the victim's family, implored the Sensers "to rise to the occasion and do the right thing."

The civil suit will give Schwebel subpoena power to talk to anyone associated with the case. They wouldn't be required to answer questions, but such denials are admissible as evidence and those involved "would pay a price later on," he said.

The Senser family "is pretending to feel a lot of distress and remorse, but they still won't give an account of the accident," Schwebel said. "The [Phanthavong] family isn't placated by what they've done to this point."

Unanswered questions

Nelson said that Phanthavong's death has weighed heavily on Amy Senser and her entire family, and that they extended their deepest sympathies to all those affected.

"Ms. Senser is not faring very well," he said. "She is a wreck."

Joe Senser, 55, a former tight end with the Vikings, is on leave from his WCCO Radio job providing color commentary for University of St. Thomas football games. The Sensers have four daughters, two in their 20s who live in Minneapolis and two in their early teens.

Phanthavong, 38, was killed as he was putting gas in his car after it ran out of fuel on the ramp leading from westbound Interstate 94 to Riverside Avenue about 11 p.m. He was head cook at True Thai, a restaurant on nearby Franklin Avenue.

He was hit directly by Senser's vehicle and propelled into the air, Schwebel said. Blood was found on the parts of the Mercedes left at the scene, according to a search warrant.

Investigators received a call at 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 24 from Nelson indicating he was calling on behalf of the registered owner of the suspected vehicle and the owner's family.

At their Edina home, the Sensers gave investigators the keys to their 2009 Mercedes ML350 and it was towed to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office crime lab.

The family gave investigators permission to search the vehicle, but authorities waited until they obtained a search warrant, Nelson said.

On Tuesday, Joe Senser and an unidentified family member met with State Patrol investigators.

They provided some information but didn't say who was driving at the time of the accident.

Lt. Eric Roeske said that identifying Amy Senser as the driver was a small step in the right direction, but that questions remained. Despite the fact that the family has identified the driver, investigators will still need to prove it as fact.

"This case is being treated the same as any other case," Roeske said. "It's our job to find out who killed this man. There is no courtesy being extended to anybody nor will there be."

Lawyers do battle

Because Amy Senser fled the scene, it will be extremely difficult for authorities to discover whether she was intoxicated at the time, Schwebel said.

If she is convicted of a crime, a judge would note the family's lack of cooperation, he said.

"Phanthavong's family is grieving and they are frustrated by this family's efforts to conceal what they know," he said.

"Wouldn't Joe Senser have wanted somebody to come forward if one of his family members was killed in a similar way? They don't have to admit liability. Just tell the facts."

Nelson stressed the Senser family's integrity, pointing to the fact that they quickly told the State Patrol their vehicle was involved in the accident rather than trying to hide the vehicle or get rid of it.

"Regardless of what was involved, this was a tragic accident," he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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