Driving details unfold in Amy Senser case

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2012 - 6:31 AM

Prosecutors build a circumstantial case against Amy Senser in fatal hit-and-run.

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Amy Senser and husband, Joe Senser, made their way into the Hennepin County Government Center for a Jan. 12 court appearance.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Prosecutors said Monday that Amy Senser failed to pick up her daughters from a St. Paul concert and was spotted driving erratically on the same night near where she earlier had struck and killed a man in Minneapolis last summer.

An amended complaint filed in Senser's felony vehicular homicide case provides the first details about where the wife of former Vikings star Joe Senser was and what she may have been doing at the time of the hit-and-run crash that killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, a popular Minneapolis chef.

The new document said that Joe Senser told her to "just go home" after he ended up picking up their daughters from Xcel Energy Center just before midnight on Aug. 23. The amended complaint, listing evidence ranging from cellphone records to witness statements, was filed in response to an anticipated motion by Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, to throw out the charges based on a lack of evidence. Senser, 45, is scheduled to stand trial on two counts of criminal vehicular homicide on April 23.

Nelson said the additional evidence still fails to prove she knew she hit Phanthavong on the westbound Interstate 94 entrance ramp at Riverside Avenue as he was filling his stalled vehicle with gas. Nelson maintains that, lost while trying to get back to Xcel, Senser believed she had struck a piece of construction equipment.

The day after Phanthavong was killed, Nelson directed investigators to a sport-utility vehicle that they found at the Sensers' Edina home with blood on the hood. Nine days later, the Sensers admitted she was the driver. "They still do not have any evidence proving she had knowledge of an accident that created a duty for her to stop," Nelson said.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the additional evidence does not include an eyewitness account of Senser knowingly striking Phanthavong and leaving the scene. However, other evidence, including multiple phone calls made from the area almost immediately afterward, is overwhelming, he said.

"Clearly it is our burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew at the time she hit him, that she hit a person or vehicle, and clearly she left," he said. "We accept that. These circumstantial facts go to prove that."

'Just go home'

Cellphone records place Amy Senser in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood earlier that night and at the Riverside exit at 11:08 p.m., almost exactly the time of the accident. Subsequent calls to and from Senser's daughters and a friend who was with them indicate they were waiting for her to pick them up following a Katy Perry concert.

The calls also place her in the area along I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul until after midnight, when a final call tracked her along Hwys. 7 and 100 north of Edina.

The complaint says Senser never arrived to pick up the girls. According to the friend of the Sensers' daughters, identified in the complaint as "Child C," Joe Senser picked up the girls around midnight, 45 minutes after the concert ended. The girl reported overhearing Joe Senser ask his wife over the phone where she was, then told her he had the girls and she should "just go home."

Nelson said Amy Senser went to the concert with the girls but left early because she had a migraine headache.

He said she was heading home when she changed her mind and took the Riverside exit to turn around.

He said she never made it back to Xcel because she got lost and told the girls to call their father.

Rehab-related calls

The girl reported that when they returned to the Sensers' Edina home, a Mercedes-Benz SUV was parked in the driveway and Amy Senser was asleep on a couch on the porch.

The mother of "Child C" reported to police that her daughter texted her around midnight and said Amy Senser never picked them up from the concert and may have been drinking.

Nelson pointed out that all the calls made after the accident were between Amy Senser and her daughters and that she did not speak with her husband until he called her shortly before midnight.

"If you're in a significant relationship, and you were in a significant accident, who is the first person you would call?" he said.

A check of Joe Senser's cellphone records revealed that the morning after the crash, he was in contact with Minnesota Teen Challenge and Florida Detox Inc., both of which provide drug and alcohol addiction counseling. Nelson, who maintains Senser was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, said that Joe Senser is on the Florida center's board of directors and that he called Teen Challenge to cancel a speaking engagement for that day.

Description matched

The complaint says several people called 911 after they spotted flashing hazard lights on Phanthavong's car and saw his body lying face down in the road. A witness called police after she said a Mercedes SUV matching the description of Senser's was in front of her at about 11:50 p.m., traveling at inconsistent speeds and weaving in and out of the lane as it approached Riverside Avenue.

The witness described the driver as having long, sandy-blond hair that was blowing around because the driver's side window was down. The witness said she passed the SUV and noticed in her rearview mirror that a headlight was out.

The State Patrol's reconstruction of the accident said that if Senser's SUV was going about 40 miles per hour, she would have had more than four seconds to spot Phanthavong and his flashing lights on the darkened exit ramp. It also said that no construction barrels were on the exit ramp.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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