The police shooting of a homicide suspect early Wednesday shut down Interstate 694 and led to hours of gridlock for Twin Cities commuters.
Events began unfolding just after 1 a.m. when Hennepin County dispatch received a call about a shooting at the Elm Creek Rest Area on I-94 in north suburban Maple Grove. Police arrived and found a man had been shot to death, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said. A witness gave a description of a vehicle leaving the rest area near Weaver Lake Road.
A short time later, police spotted a red SUV with Oregon license plates in the area of I-694 and I-94. Officers chased the vehicle for miles as it sped east on I-694, with speeds reaching 115 miles per hour. The suspect, who was alone in the car, drove 18 miles before crashing into cable barriers in the center median near Rice Street in Shoreview, according to scanner reports.
With officers from several jurisdictions converging on the scene, the man got out of the vehicle. When he brandished a weapon at officers, he was shot, the sheriff’s office said. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities did not specify what type of weapon he had.
“We have more questions than answers at this point,” Stanek said during a news conference Wednesday. “We want to get at what happened, why it happened and how it happened.”
The crash and subsequent investigation shut down I-694 between I-35W and I-35E through Shoreview and Little Canada for more than eight hours and tangled the morning commute for thousands from Woodbury in the east to the western suburbs.
Drivers fleeing the jam on I-694 found congestion on Hwy. 36, I-35W from Blaine to Roseville and other escape routes. Eastbound Hwy. 10 was stopped from University Avenue to I-35W.
Stanek said the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation of the I-694 shooting at the request of Hennepin County. The Maple Grove Police Department is investigating the homicide at the rest stop in their city. “This is somewhat unusual in that you have [crimes in] two counties and three cities,” he said.
Officials did not release the names of the victim or suspect. But the Tri-City Herald in Washington reported that the man killed by police was Johnathan Mar, a student at Legacy High School/Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick, Wash., 30 miles from the Oregon border.
Results of autopsies will be released by Hennepin and Ramsey county medical examiners, said Drew Evans, assistant superintendent with the BCA.
The names of the officers also were not released, but officials said that a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy and a Brooklyn Center police officer fired their weapons. Chief Kevin Benner said it was the first time since August 2013 that a Brooklyn Center officer had been involved in a shooting.
Maple Grove Police Chief Eric Werner said a call from a witness gave police specific information that allowed police to locate the suspect’s vehicle. But he said police are still looking for additional information. “We are looking for help from the community,” he said.
Werner said there had been no police calls to the Maple Grove rest stop immediately before the shooting. The rest area has had police calls for suspicious activity and other incidents in the past. The rest stop was closed for the rest of the day, Werner said.