A Champlin man admitted Wednesday to crashing into a north Minneapolis bus shelter last summer and injuring six men, blaming his health, confusion and other issues.
George R. Jensen, 83, pleaded guilty to five counts of criminal vehicular operation in the July 9 incident that left three men in critical condition and three others injured.
However, Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam reserved accepting the plea deal, which called for probation and community service, until Jensen undergoes a neurological exam. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20, at which time Quam will decide whether to accept the plea.
Jensen's attorney, Mark Kelly, asked him if the crash was the result of a combination of weakness in his legs, the large size of the van he was operating, the distraction of him speaking with people on the street from his vehicle and his confusion over the gas and brake pedals.
"Correct," Jensen said.
Jensen later made a second declaration.
"Well, I didn't do that accident on purpose," he said.
The case has drawn scrutiny from black activists who accused Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman of giving Jensen preferential treatment because he is white and his victims, who suffered severe injuries, are black.
"They were just petty excuses to excuse what George had done to those innocent people," activist Daphne Brown, who attended Wednesday's hearing, said of Kelly's questions.
According to the criminal complaint: On July 9, Jensen spoke to three women in front of the bus stop at the intersection of W. Broadway and N. Lyndale Avenue. A woman told police she knew Jensen as "Howard," and that he had been a regular in the area for three years. He gave women $10 in exchange for their phone numbers.
One witness said Jensen was "circling the area trying to find a woman to pick up," but the women turned him down.
Freeman has declined to say whether he believed Jensen was looking for a prostitute.
Surveillance video captured Jensen driving away from the women, sideswiping a Metro Transit bus, backing up and hitting the bus again.
He pulled into the intersection "in order to give himself a view of the bus shelter on Broadway," the charges said.
Jensen veered onto the curb and accelerated "slowly," striking a bench, news stand and a bike rack before crashing into the bus shelter.
The charges said Jensen didn't activate his brakes once he was on the curb even though he had activated them "seconds" earlier.
Brown said she believes Jensen acted intentionally.
"He knew exactly what he was doing," she said after Wednesday's plea hearing.
Jensen's plea deal called for three years' probation, 100 hours of community service focused on distracted and elderly driving education and the revocation of his driver's license.
Jensen also agreed to serve a year in the workhouse, but the time will be furloughed to his "current housing."
Kelly said Jensen has "early onset" dementia, but Jensen told the judge he understood the court proceedings.
Under questioning from Kelly, Jensen said he was going to the farmers market at the time, and that he was experiencing mobility issues that prevented him from walking more than 200 feet at a time. Jensen also admitted that he had been talking to people on the street corner.
"Your full attention isn't on the road?" Kelly asked.
"True," Jensen said.
Five men were taken to hospitals; one man was treated at the scene. According to authorities, one man suffered several pelvic fractures and "significant" blood loss; another suffered rib fractures, a lacerated spleen and broke both legs, among other injuries; a third suffered a traumatic brain injury and several broken ribs; a fourth suffered a fractured spine; and a fifth suffered several rib fractures.
Attorney Richard Student representing victim Anthony Brown, who suffered a spinal fracture, attended the plea hearing.
"Anthony's still hurting," Student said, declining to address the merits of Jensen's claims.