The St. Paul man who drove an SUV into a parked car protecting protesters blocking an Uptown intersection and killed a woman does not have a driver's license and has a history of drunken driving convictions and other crimes dating back more than 17 years, according to authorities.
Nicholas D. Kraus, 35, remains jailed Tuesday without bail on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the crash late Sunday that killed 31-year-old Deona M. Knajdek of Minneapolis and injured three other protesters.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office said it expects to file charges against Kraus no later than midday Wednesday, which would have been the 32nd birthday for Knajdek, a mother of two girls who worked as a program manager for the Cottages Group, a Twin Cities-based home health care provider for vulnerable adults.
Knajdek was among protesters who have been gathering at W. Lake Street and S. Girard Avenue since shortly after Winston Boogie Smith Jr. was fatally shot by law enforcement on June 3 during an attempt by a U.S. Marshals Service task force to arrest him in a parking ramp. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said he fired a gun from his vehicle. An unidentified woman who was in the car with Smith said she never saw him with a weapon, her attorneys said last week. Authorities have said that no body or dash camera or surveillance footage is available in the case.
Kraus' criminal history in Minnesota includes five convictions for drunken driving, most recently in 2016 in Anoka County and as far back as 2008. He's also been convicted numerous times for driving without a valid license, and for assault, failure to have auto insurance and giving police a false name.
Police have yet to say whether the driver targeted the protesters; however, "the use of drugs or alcohol … may be a contributing factor in this crash," Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder said Monday.
At the time of Sunday night's crash, Kraus' license status was canceled, and it has been that way since shortly after a drunken driving conviction in 2013, according to state officials.
Activist Donald Hooker Jr. spent time alongside Knajdek at the protest, witnessed the crash and documented on video the ensuing chaos.
"He was going real fast, and he sped up the closer he got to the barricades," Hooker said. "He got out of the car, and he tried to run. … This was an attack. It was on purpose."
Hooker said others there "apprehended him safely" and handed him over to police. He challenged the police account that protesters struck the man in any way.
Scott Gaden said he sold the 2-ton SUV, a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, to Kraus last week for $1,000 not knowing that his friend didn't have a valid driver's license.
Gaden said, "I've been freaking out ever since" and expressed worry that he might be in legal trouble.
"He said he had insurance and a license," Gaden added.
Gaden said Kraus still owes him $500, and his friend promised last week that he would get the title on the SUV transferred on Monday. The crash occurred Sunday.
Gaden, who said he talks with Kraus about once a week, was unsure what would have prompted his friend to drive into the parked vehicle. He said Kraus had never said anything troubling about protesters or politics in general.
"When I talked to him, he just didn't seem like himself," said Gaden, who allowed Kraus to live with him in Hugo for a couple of weeks last fall.
Tricia Johanson said she was Kraus' girlfriend until last week, when they broke up and he moved out of her west metro home.
Johanson said she last saw Kraus on Saturday night, the day before the crash, and "something was not right [with him]. There was so much confusion."
Johanson said the two of them first dated from 2006 until 2010 before getting back together this past October, and he has never said or done anything to make her think he was upset about the causes of civil rights protesters.
"He was absolutely not a racist, not a white supremacist," she said.
Elder, the police spokesman, said in a news release that his department could now disclose Kraus' identity because the traffic and homicide units "have reached a stage of their investigation where they are able to release the name of the suspect in this homicide without it negatively impacting their case."
The MPD had refused to release Kraus' name from the moment of his being booked into jail about 4:15 a.m. Monday until Tuesday afternoon citing an unspecified provision in the state's data practices statute.
A Star Tribune attorney e-mailed City Attorney Jim Rowader early Tuesday afternoon to object to Kraus' name being withheld. The name was then shared publicly in Elder's news release less than an hour later.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482