A crash at a bus shelter that injured six men earlier this week is drawing fresh attention to racial tensions on the North Side of Minneapolis as authorities continue investigating the incident.
Members of the Racial Justice Network and Black Lives Matter Twin Cities gathered Thursday at the crash scene at W. Broadway and N. Lyndale Avenue to express dismay that charges have not been filed against George Jensen, 83, of Champlin.
Police identified Jensen as the driver of the van that slammed into the bus shelter Tuesday morning after hitting a Metro Transit bus twice. Jensen is white and the injured men are black.
“We want to see the truth prevail,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney who organized the Thursday news conference and questioned the ability of the Metro Transit police to handle the investigation. If the collision was intentional, she said, Jensen “needs to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Speaker after speaker called on investigators to “do their job” and “get justice for the six people who got hit.” Some at Thursday’s rally carried signs that read “Charge George Jensen Now” and “End Violence Against Black Bodies.”
Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said police hope to present their findings next week to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which will decide if charges will be filed.
Four of the six men injured in the crash remain hospitalized.
An attorney representing Jensen released a statement Thursday saying the crash was an accident.
“We are aware the matter is under investigation, and are confident the facts will bear out that this was truly an unintended and unfortunate accident,” the statement from Mark Bradford said. “In the meantime, we will continue to keep the injured persons in our prayers.”
Authorities have yet to pinpoint what led to the crash at the busy corner.
Preliminary information confirmed witness accounts that Jensen was heading south on Lyndale Avenue in a gold van about 9:25 a.m. and clipped the mirror of a southbound Route 22 bus that had stopped at W. Broadway to unload passengers, Padilla said. Jensen then backed up and struck the mirror for a second time, then went around the corner and plowed into the bus shelter on Broadway.
Jensen was initially detained for questioning but then was released. Jensen gave no indication in his time with investigators that the crash was intentional, Padilla said.
Padilla had said Wednesday that officers did not conduct a field sobriety test — something speakers at the Thursday news conference took issue with and cited as a reason to question the integrity of the investigation.
Later Thursday, Padilla said supplemental police reports showed Jensen was tested at Metro Transit police headquarters and the results showed Jensen had a .00% blood alcohol content.
Investigators continue to gather information, including video surveillance footage from cameras at area business that could corroborate witness accounts, Padilla said.
Those gathered at the news conference said they felt statements from black witnesses had been disregarded, and they asked for the officers to be held accountable. They asked for a meeting with interim Metro Transit Police Chief A.J. Olson and Nora Slawik, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council.
Jonetta Watts said her fiancé, Richard Harrison Smith, was sitting at the bus stop waiting for her to return from North Memorial Medical Center when the crash occurred. He was pinned under Jensen’s van and ended up in the hospital she had just left. She said Smith suffered a broken pelvis and had injuries to his arms and legs.
“I want my justice,” Watts said. “I’m disabled and he took care of me. Now I have to take care of him.”
Smith, 52, of Minneapolis, remained in critical condition Thursday at North Memorial, as did Zewdu Eshetu, 56, of Minneapolis. A third man who was taken to North Memorial, Napolean Durley Jr., 61, of St. Louis Park, was in fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
At HCMC, Anthony Brown, 56, of Minneapolis remained in satisfactory condition, a hospital spokeswoman said, while Elmuiz Gubartialla, 57, of Minneapolis was released earlier Thursday.
Darnell Love Jackson, 58, of Minneapolis was treated at the scene of the crash.