Hit-and-run death involving Senser ruled accidental

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 15, 2011 - 11:10 AM

That ruling by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office means little to the investigation of Amy Senser, the State Patrol says.

The hit-and-run death of a Roseville man in which Amy Senser was the driver has been ruled accidental, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.

The Wednesday ruling will have little effect on the State Patrol's ongoing investigation or the severity of any potential charges that may be filed against Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings star Joe Senser, said Lt. Eric Roeske, a spokesman for the patrol.

The couple still haven't spoken to authorities, although her lawyer has admitted that she was driving the Mercedes-Benz SUV on the night it struck and killed chef Anousone Phanthavong. He was hit Aug. 23 as he put gas in his car after it stalled on a Minneapolis freeway ramp. Nobody has been arrested.

In a one-page news release, the medical examiner's office said Phanthavong, 38, died from multiple blunt force injuries. The time of the accident is listed as "unknown," but the time of death is described as "found at 11:10 p.m." The location of his death was Interstate 94 ramp to Riverside Avenue, 400 feet west of Riverside Avenue.

The medical examiner's office also could have ruled Phanthavong's death a homicide, suicide or undetermined. The ruling of "accidental" was definitely expected because no other cause of death "has been in anybody's thought process," said Jim Schwebel, an attorney retained by the Phanthavong family, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Sensers.

The only value of the examiner's ruling is to look at the nature of the destruction of the body to determine the posture of Phanthavong when he was hit, Schwebel said. Phanthavong's body was found 40 feet from his car, but it's unclear whether he was carried by Senser's vehicle or propelled the entire distance by the force of the collision, Schwebel said.

The State Patrol asked for the media's help following the accident. The Senser family's attorney, Eric Nelson, directed State Patrol investigators to the vehicle, parked in the garage at the family's Edina home with blood still on the hood. Nelson waited more than a week to publicly identify Amy Senser, 45, as the driver, and he advised the couple to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Nelson said Wednesday that he wasn't surprised by the ruling, and he continued to advise the Sensers to decline speaking with investigators. If Amy Senser is charged, she would have the right to testify in her defense in court, he said. He wouldn't discuss any specifics of the incident.

"I know there is lots and lots of speculation on what happened," he said. "The man's death and media attention have absolutely taken a toll on Amy."

Through their attorney, Amy and Joe Senser have been notified that Schwebel wants to take a deposition from them. He also plans to depose anyone who might have information about Amy Senser's whereabouts before the accident.

"We really want to prove who was driving by facts other than the testimony of the Sensers," Schwebel said. "We will end up with the info we need at the end of the day."

Roeske wouldn't discuss any details of the patrol's investigation, but he said the aim is to finish it as soon as possible. It will be thorough and complete, he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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