A truck driver who garnered national attention for driving into a crowd of protesters in the wake of the George Floyd’s death at the hands of police has been charged with a felony months after the fact.
Video widely shared on social media showed a Kenan Advantage tanker rig, horn blaring, on May 31 scattering a group of protesters who were blocking the interstate on I-35W. Reports at the time indicated that no protesters were hit by the truck, but the crowd swarmed the rig, pulled the driver out and attacked him.
The driver was arrested on a probable cause of assault, but later investigation appeared to indicate his actions were not intentional. However, a longer investigation has resulted in two felony charges, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman in a press release.
Bogdan Vechirko, 35, was charged with a felony count of threats of violence and a gross misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation after a “thorough investigation showed that Vechirko wanted to scare people out of his path, according to the complaint.”
On the afternoon of May 31, more than 1,000 protesters were sitting and standing on the interstate bridge just east of downtown Minneapolis. A petroleum tanker truck, driven by Vechirko, approached the bridge from the south and “headed right for the crowd at a high rate of speed,” according to the release, which also said “he did not stop until a person in the crowd stumbled and fell forward.”
The department was in the process of closing the interstate that day, and the on-ramp used by the trucker hadn't been closed off yet, the department said at the time.
Since that time, investigators reviewed traffic cameras and a number of cell phone videos, all of which showed protesters screaming and running in a panic from the truck. The videos also showed multiple vehicles stopped in the northbound lanes and drivers heading the wrong direction on entrance ramps, the complaint states.
During the investigation, a similar truck was used to reconstruct Verchirko’s drive. The re-enactment showed that Verchirko’s line of sight would have provided him sufficient time to see the crowd and stop his truck well short of them, according to the complaint.
Investigators also spoke to numerous people who said that they thought they were going to be struck or killed by the truck. At least one person suffered scrapes and abrasions to her leg as she tried to get out of the truck’s path.
According to the complaint, “the defendant admitted that he was kind of in a hurry. The defendant stated that when he saw the crowd, he hoped that if he went slow the crowd would let him past. The defendant stated that he stopped when he saw someone fall. The defendant acknowledged that he saw cars pulling off to the right of the highway as he approached. The defendant acknowledged that he could have stopped the truck sooner.”
If Vechirko is convicted, he could face up to five years in prison on the felony charge and up to one year in prison on the gross misdemeanor charge.
The tone of the press release is very different from news reports at the time of the incident. At that time, Minnesota Department of Safety Commissioner John Harrington said the driver likely “saw the crowd and he panicked.” He slammed on his brakes after seeing a woman in a bicycle fall down. “We don’t have any information that makes this seem like this was an intentional act,” he added.
In the immediate wake of the incident, Gov. Tim Walz said the driver was apparently confused and didn’t mean to injure anyone.
Following the news of Vechirko’s indictment, Minnesota state Rep.Cal Barr, a CDL holder himself, said, “This is outrageous. I know Bogdan, and Bogdan should not be charged with these crimes. He brought his truck to a stop before anyone was harmed. For some reason, everyone is mad at Bogdan for driving on that interstate. Let me be clear, he was engaged in commerce on an interstate highway, that’s what a trucker does. Moreover, it is a violation of federal law for any pedestrian to be on an interstate highway. If anyone is charged it should be the protestors and enforcement agencies that allowed this to happen!
“The state is trying to place the blame for their failure to enforce the law on a single working man. The law says no pedestrians on the interstate. The state has continually allowed protests that block interstate highways. The state was wrong then, and they are wrong now. Charging Mr. Vechirko for their failure to enforce the law is stupefying.”