MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota authorities said Tuesday, June 2, that the driver of a tanker truck who drove into a group of thousands of protesters on Interstate 35 West in Minneapolis on Sunday, May 31, did not do so intentionally. Public jail records also indicate that he has now been released from police custody.
The driver, who has been identified as 35-year-old Bogdan Vechirko according to public records, was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and then arrested for suspicion of assault, according to Minnesota authorities. TV footage from local news sources show protesters swarming the truck and then law enforcement quickly moving in. Other TV footage shows the tanker truck moving rapidly onto the bridge as protesters appear to part ahead of it.
The Star Tribune, a news outlet in Minneapolis, reported that Vechirko left the jail midday on Tuesday, June 2. The Hennepin County Jail roster indicates that Vechirko was released after the 36-hour “detainment without charges” time frame had expired.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said in a news conference Monday, June 1, and via Twitter that the department does not have “any information that makes this seem like this was an intentional act.”
Harrington said initially the freeways near Minneapolis were set to close at 8 p.m., but as the group holding a peaceful protest at U.S. Bank Stadium began moving toward the freeway, the Minnesota Department of Transportation was asked to shut down the freeways and entrance ramps ahead of time. The driver was already on the freeway, according to footage from traffic cameras. The driver was on Highway 94 and turned onto Interstate 35 before access was blocked, Harrington said.
“We know that this was his second run of the day. He was running empty; there was no fuel in that tanker truck,” Harrington said. “From what we understand, he was speeding.”
Harrington estimates that Bogdan was going about 70 mph.
Harrington said the department has information that leads them to believe that when Bogdan saw the crowd, he panicked and kept barreling forward. According to Harrington, Bogdan said he saw a young woman on a bike fall in front of him, and he slammed on the brakes. The truck then slid until it came to a stop.
“From what we can tell in our interviews, we have not had any information — and it is a little bit of an investigation — we don’t have any information that makes this seem like it was an intentional act,” Harrington said. “It wasn’t that he went around the barricades to get to the protest. He knew the protest was going on, but it doesn’t appear that he was driving to intersect the protest.”
There has been no mention from Minnesota authorities of charges being pursued at this time.
“We had shut down the freeway because we wanted to keep these protesters safe,” Harrington said in a news conference earlier in the day on Monday, June 1. “We have recognized that having people on the freeway is a hazardous, hazardous place for them to be. So, one of the things that we have learned over the years is that by shutting down the freeway, we put them in a place where it will be safe, or at least safer to get them to move as they demonstrate and have it done in a safe way.”
On Monday afternoon, the Minnesota DPS tweeted a message from Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer, stating, “The freeway is a very dangerous place to be when you are protesting. The freeway is just not the place to do it.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said during the earlier Monday press conference that “to not have a tragedy and many deaths is an amazing thing,” referring to the incident with the tanker.
Harrington said he estimates there were between 5,000 and 7,000 protesters participating in the event that spilled onto the interstate at the time of the tanker’s arrival. Gov. Walz noted that Bogdan has stated that the vast majority of protesters protected him once he was pulled from the cab of the truck until police could get to the scene to take him into custody. Walz said he feels “that speaks volumes.”
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said in a tweet at the time of the incident that the action appeared deliberate and that the actions of the truck driver were “very disturbing,” and said those actions were “inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators.” Officials have now confirmed that there is no evidence to support that claim.
The protesters were demonstrating against the death of George Floyd. Protests and demonstrations are ongoing throughout the county.
The Trucker first reported on this incident on Sunday, May 31. To view the original story, which includes local news footage of the incident, click here.