State expert: Victim hit hood, near fender

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 4:20 PM

Wrapping up its case, the prosecution attacks defense claim that Amy Senser was unaware she hit anyone.

The prosecution in the Amy Senser trial rested its case Friday with evidence casting doubts on her claim that she didn't know she hit someone: testimony from a state expert that Anousone Phanthavong's body hit the hood when her vehicle struck him.

State Patrol Sgt. Paul Skoglund said that the victim's injuries, coupled with the damage to Senser's car, showed that the body wrapped around the hood along the fender.

"His body wrapped over the hood of this vehicle ... and then fell over the side," Skoglund testified, adding that Phanthavong would have been completely illuminated by her headlights at impact. "He struck the ground and slid to his final rest."

Skoglund's testimony -- coming after a week that delved into the personal lives and interactions of Senser and her family -- was an attempt by the prosecution to refute Senser's claims that she thought she struck a piece of construction debris on the night of Aug. 23.

Senser, 45, has admitted being at the wheel that night and striking Phanthavong, but said she left the scene because she didn't think she hit a person. Her husband, Joe Senser, testified earlier in the week that he realized she was involved in the fatal accident only when he saw the damage to her car and a news report about the death the next day.

Charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide, Senser is expected to take the stand Monday in her own defense. The case is expected to go to the jury Tuesday morning.

Phanthavong, 38, a chef from Roseville, was killed as he was putting gas in his stalled car on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis.

Acquittal denied

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell called dozens of witnesses this week, including Joe Senser and three of his four daughters. Brittani Senser, 28, testified she compelled her stepmother to come forward by threatening to go to authorities herself. Molly, 15, said her mother confided in her that she'd had something to drink that night but wasn't drunk.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson's case could rest on the testimony of Amy Senser herself, who likely will tell the jury that she suffered from an intense sinus infection and migraine and was lost that night after dropping her daughters and two friends at a Katy Perry concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Other key witnesses will include the defense's own crash reconstruction expert and possible character witnesses.

Before beginning his case, Nelson asked Judge Daniel Mabley to acquit Senser of all three counts based on what he termed the insufficient evidence that she knew she struck Phanthavong, that she failed to notify authorities or was negligent. He cited testimony by the Senser family to back his claims that nothing was believed to be out of the ordinary the night of the accident because Amy Senser was unaware of what had happened.

Russell countered in part that "most, if not all" of the Sensers' testimony was not "terribly credible."

Mabley denied the motion.

'Adventurous' mom

Earlier Friday, Molly Senser, 15, was cool and composed as she testified about the days after the crash, including her mother's admission that she had "something" to drink that night. She said at first that she didn't ask her parents about the crash out of respect while they coped with their legal difficulties. Pressed by Russell, she acknowledged telling an investigator that she later asked her mom what happened that night. In the deposition, Molly Senser said that Amy Senser told her "something had happened," and when Molly Senser asked whether she had been drinking, she replied that she "wasn't drunk or anything."

"But she had a sip of something?" Russell asked.

"But she didn't say what it was," Molly Senser replied.

Molly Senser also testified that her mother was not someone who was flighty and irresponsible, but rather "spontaneous" and "adventurous." But that wasn't the mother she saw in the days after the crash, she said.

"I have never seen that expression on my mother's face," she testified. "It's something you cannot explain."

Barrels in courtroom

Later Friday, Skoglund, a crash reconstruction expert for the State Patrol, noted that the only damage to Phanthavong's car was a broken mirror, consistent with an abrasion to the left side of his chest.

A detailed diagram of the crash site also showed the construction barrels and cones were positioned at the top of the exit ramp, far west of where Phanthavong was struck. Using identical barrels and cones to those on the ramp that night, Skoglund pointed out that a barrel weighs about 33 pounds, and a cone weighs far less.

Phanthavong, Skoglund pointed out, weighed 135 pounds. A barrel or cone wouldn't cause the damage to Senser's vehicle that Phanthavong's body did, he testified.

During cross-examination, Nelson pointed out that Skoglund doesn't know what Senser felt or heard as she traveled up the ramp that night, and that she lacked his expertise to determine what she hit.

As his first defense witness, Nelson called cellphone expert David Snavely, who testified that cellphone calls don't necessarily use the nearest tower.

The testimony was in response to a prosecution witness who testified that a series of cellphone calls to and from Senser's phone during and after the accident placed her in the area afterward, based on the towers that handled the calls.

Snavely testified that the towers can have a range up to 15 miles.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

HIGHLIGHTS FRIDAY

The prosecution rested its case with testimony from a State Patrol crash reconstruction expert, who said that Anousone Phanthavong's injuries, coupled with the damage to her car, showed that he flew over the top of Amy Senser's hood. The testimony was an effort to refute her claim that she left the scene that night because she didn't realize she had hit someone.

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