A tire print from the vehicle is visible in the dirt at the corner of 5th Street and S.E. 12th Ave., where the three pedestrians were struck.
David Joles, Dml - Star Tribune
Minneapolis Police, Dml -
Fatal Dinkytown crash suspect: I didn't mean to kill anyone
- Article by: ABBY SIMONS
- Star Tribune
- March 2, 2012 - 10:56 PM
By his own admission, Timothy Bakdash was so drunk and high that he was "kind of in and out of reality" the night last spring when he drove onto a sidewalk and slammed into a group of University of Minnesota students walking home from Dinkytown bars.
But he was so certain of one thing that he repeated it like a mantra on the witness stand Friday: Benjamin Van Handel's death was an accident.
"I did not see him on that sidewalk. I did not try to hit him. I did not try to kill him," he told the court, taking the stand in his own defense on the fifth day of testimony in his first-degree murder and attempted-murder trial.
For more than two hours, Bakdash, 29, told the jury that he meant only to clip the ankle of a man he believed had taunted him in the parking lot as he left the Library Bar, where he claims he had about 20 mixed drinks. Instead, he said, he panicked when he saw a girl bounce off his windshield, shattering it, before he sped off. He testified that he was unaware that he struck two others, including Van Handel.
"At that moment, my heart just about dropped," he said under questioning by defense attorney Joseph Tamburino. "I was scared, I panicked, I freaked out."
Van Handel, 23, died five days later, hours before Bakdash was arrested. Students Sarah Bagley and Katelynn Hanson, both 21 at the time, were seriously injured. A.J. Epperson, whose ankle was struck, was not hurt.
During testimony, he said that his statements of "he deserved it" to friends and a co-worker after the April 15 crash were about Epperson, not Van Handel. He repeatedly called it a "stupid mistake" but said he was confused when he heard news that a man was in critical condition in the ensuing days, when he also signed over his damaged Mitsubishi Galant to a friend.
Bakdash testified that the man he clipped with his car, Epperson, was the same man who slapped him in the face after taunting him in the parking lot. Epperson testified earlier this week that he had never seen Bakdash before and was never in any sort of fight with him.
Bakdash testified that he was going only about 15 miles per hour when he drove over the curb toward Epperson, although witnesses estimate he was driving anywhere from 30 to 60 miles per hour as he drove the wrong way down SE. 5th Street in Minneapolis.
Bakdash, who sometimes spoke haltingly, appeared confident on the stand under questioning by Tamburino, who sometimes had to slow him down when he tried to explain what happened. At times, Bakdash wilted under questioning by Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney William Richardson.
Bakdash said that despite being drunk, he was able to swerve to avoid a line of trees, a concrete barrier and a light pole -- the same one that Van Handel struck, causing his fatal head injury.
"So you could have seen Ben Van Handel flying through the air on the way to his death?" Richardson asked.
"I did not see him," Bakdash replied.
Richardson repeatedly pressed Bakdash to admit that he killed Van Handel. Bakdash took responsibility but continued to insist it was an accident.
"You still can't admit it, can you?" Richardson said. "It's a hard thing."
During testimony, Bakdash repeatedly apologized to the families involved.
"They're college students. They have a bright and promising future," he said.
Van Handel's parents, who sat in the front of the overflowing courtroom, only shook their heads.
Although Van Handel's family and friends filled the courtroom for each day of the trial, Bakdash was frank when he testified why his, including his mother, a nurse practitioner, his father, a periodontologist, and two siblings were not there.
"I'm kind of ashamed of what happened," he said. "I didn't want them in a courtroom. I didn't want them to see this."
Because Bakdash was not arrested until April 21, investigators could not determine his blood-alcohol level. Toxicologist Thomas Burr testified for the defense that, because of how much he claimed to have drunk at the Library Bar, Bakdash could have had a blood-alcohol level ranging from 0.29 percent to 0.38, three to nearly five times the legal limit for driving.
Prosecutors have repeatedly claimed that regardless of intoxication, Bakdash had the presence of mind and intent to kill, and he followed through with it. Tamburino has repeatedly claimed that Bakdash meant only to scare someone, made a horrible mistake and panicked in the aftermath.
"Did you want to kill anyone that night?" Tamburino asked.
"No, I did not." Bakdash said.
"Did you mean to kill anyone?"
"No, I did not."
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921
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