Barely three years after he went to prison for a hit-and-run crash that permanently injured a pedestrian in California, the man accused of causing a high-speed collision late last week in Minneapolis that killed five people had his driving privileges restored in Minnesota.
Derrick John Thompson, 27, of Brooklyn Park, remains jailed Tuesday with charges pending on suspicion of murder in connection with the crash late Friday after he sped off an Interstate 35W exit ramp in his full-size Cadillac Escalade SUV and struck a car going through an E. Lake Street intersection.
Thompson is the son of former state Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul.
Killed in the crash were Sabiriin Ali, 17, of Bloomington; Sahra Gesaade, 20, of Brooklyn Center; Salma Abdikadir, 20, of St. Louis Park; Sagal Hersi, 19, of Minneapolis; and Siham Adam, 19, of Minneapolis.
Derrick John Thompson ran from the wreckage, but he was soon captured by police. He appeared extremely sleepy and uncommunicative, and a bag of suspected marijuana was located on the front passenger floor board, a court document filed Tuesday read.
Along with the serious-injury crash in 2020 near Santa Barbara, Calif., Thompson's criminal history in Minnesota is peppered with driving-related illegalities. They include convictions for driving while possessing an illicit drug, speeding, having unsafe vehicle equipment, fleeing police in a vehicle, driving without insurance, and three convictions for driving after his license was suspended or revoked.
Short of being locked up for life, however, Minnesota doesn't allow a lifetime ban from having a driver's license, no matter how serious or numerous the offenses. To illustrate, 64-year-old Danny Lee Bettcher possessed a valid license even with 27 drunken-driving offenses on his record and proceeded to get one more DUI on Sept. 28, 2017, in New York Mills.
In February 2020, Thompson was sentenced for the hit-and-run crash during a police pursuit in 2018 near Santa Barbara, Calif., that left a pedestrian seriously injured. The 58-year-old woman from North Carolina went into a coma and was left with permanent injuries.
At the time, law enforcement said it found in the rental car more than 17 pounds of marijuana and more than $20,000 in cash.
Thompson was sentenced to eight years in prison in February 2020, but multiple factors played a role in him serving less time, Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod told the Star Tribune.
Like other violent felons in California, Thompson was required to serve 85% of his term in custody, and was given credit for the nearly 1⅔ years he spent in jail before sentencing, Weichbrod said. That trimmed Thompson's prison time to about 5½ years.
There is one more factor that could have played into Thompson leaving prison well before 5½ years. Weichbrod said that passage of a statewide ballot proposal in 2016 handed prison officials "wide latitude to award additional custody credits [toward early release] as well as early parole opportunities."
Thompson left prison on Jan. 19 this year, according to California corrections officials.
Once out of prison, Thompson took several steps toward having his Minnesota driver's license reinstated. State records show he paid various fees and fines in early March and took a knowledge exam.
On March 11, Thompson was notified that his driving privileges would be reinstated once he met requirements in one state where his privileges were invalid, according to state Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) spokesman Oliver Schuster.
On June 7, Thompson got his Minnesota license after a national database showed valid driving privileges in all states. Having that valid license allowed him to rent the SUV he was driving on the night of the crash.
Nine days later, Thompson was at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Hertz location to pick up a 2023 Cadillac Escalade at 9:46 p.m. Friday. Like any vehicle rental company, Hertz requires customers to present a valid license before driving off.
By 10:10 that same night, five young women — described as pearls of their community —were dead.
Star Tribune staff writers Kim Hyatt and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.