Two people were sent to the hospital, one with life threatening injuries, after a driver sped through a crowd of dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters blocking southbound I-5 early Saturday morning.
The driver has been taken into custody, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Just after 1:30 AM, a white sedan sped into the crowd assembled on the freeway near Yale just north of the Olive Way overpass, careening into at least two protesters in a scene captured by journalists livestreaming the demonstration. Seattle Fire reports the two victims are women in their 20s. One suffered life threatening injuries while the second suffered serious injuries but is reported in stable condition. UPDATE x2: WSP says the victims are a 24-year-old from Seattle and a 32-year-old from Bellingham. UPDATE x3: They have been identified as Summer Taylor, 24, and Diaz Love, 32. Information on how to help is below.
UPDATE 10:00 PM: According to Harborview, Taylor passed away earlier Saturday.
— Capitol Hill Community Info Center (@seattle_cic) July 4, 2020
I-5 was closed to traffic by WSP between I-5 and 520 around midnight as the nightly protest barricaded ramps and made its way onto the freeway after demonstrating outside the West Precinct.
According to reports from the scene, Seattle Police, and the Washington State Patrol, the 27-year-old driver sped onto the freeway and through the crowd at high speed. SPD reported the vehicle appeared to be occupied by multiple people and was pursued by a second car after the terrible crash. There were unconfirmed reports of gunfire during the pursuit. UPDATE: In their report on the incident, police say the driver was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
UPDATE 4:00 PM: The driver has been identified as Dawit Kelete. The Seattle man is currently held in King County Jail, booked for investigation of vehicular assault and awaiting charges. A hearing to set his bail is slated for Monday. A search shows Kelete has no felony court records in King County. He was cited in Seattle in June for driving without insurance, according to municipal court records.
It was not yet clear how Kelete got onto the freeway but the WSP says it is believed he possibly entered I-5 via an offramp. In a media briefing, a spokesperson said the car did not gain access through a WSP closure point. The driver was not impaired by drugs or alcohol, the spokesperson said. UPDATE: In the SPD report on the incident, police say Kelete drove the wrong way on the Stewart ramp to access the freeway north of the demonstration, turned right onto I-5 south and sped less than a quarter mile before ramming into the protesters.
WSP reported the driver was in custody around 2:30 AM but we do not know details of the arrest. UPDATE: The WSP says the suspect vehicle was blocked in by the car that pursued it following the collision and a second vehicle that entered the freeway to assist.
UPDATE 10:26 PM: The Seattle Police report filed with the court Saturday describes what police investigating the incident saw in a video provided by a witness. “The Jaguar passed vehicles parked perpendicular on the interstate to protect protesters. The vehicle then made a sharp left turn entering the right lane and struck two protesters.”
“The driver was reserved and appeared sullen throughout his time in custody,” police write. “At one point he asked if the injured pedestrians were okay.”
While WSP has been blocking the freeway to help protect the demonstrators, early Saturday morning, a WSP commander criticized the ongoing protests.
“Listen, what happened this morning is a tragedy. I mean, it is a true tragedy,” Captain Ron Mead, commander of WSP field operations for District 2, said. “But what is occurring out here is unlawful behavior. It is illegal to block an interstate. Plain and simple. And the fact that this occurred for 19 days in a row. It needs to end. It needs to come to a stop.”
The victims were taken to Harborview where a group of protesters gathered overnight.
Saturday’s incident came on a night busy with protest across Seattle including a large demonstration that again marched on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Northeast Seattle home. Small groups of demonstrators were also reported overnight around the cleared Capitol Hill protest zone.
It is not known if the driver was targeting the BLM Women’s March. In early June, A driver sped toward the massive demonstration crowd at 11th and Pine and shot one protester attempting to disarm him. Nikolas Fernandez has been charged with one count of first degree assault in the incident. The Capitol Hill protest zone also suffered two deadly shootings amid a string of gun violence around the camp.
Demonstrators have been blocking I-5 nightly for weeks on marches between the Capitol Hill protest zone outside the East Precinct and the West Precinct.
Small demonstrations have continued around the Pike/Pine and Broadway core of Capitol Hill following Wednesday’s police raid and sweep to clear the occupied protest and camp from E Pine and Cal Anderson Park.
UPDATE 5:04 PM: Seattle Police say an earlier incident involving an off-duty cop and another driver at Boren and Olive Way and the same group of protesters 90 minutes before the incident on I-5 was not related to the crash that later sent the two women to the hospital.
According to SPD, around midnight, an off-duty Seattle Police officer was driving a personal vehicle at Boren and Olive Way, “where a group of demonstrators had blocked the intersection” —
The off-duty officer reported they had attempted to drive through an opening in the crowd when the crowd surrounded their vehicle. Another driver became involved in the incident and struck the off-duty officer’s car.
Police say they investigated and there were no injuries reported. This incident has been referred to the Office of Police Accountability for review, SPD says.
UPDATE 7/5/2020 9:30 AM: WSP has announced it will no longer allow protests to enter the freeway:
— WA State Patrol (@wastatepatrol) July 5, 2020
Saturday night, groups of Seattle Police were reported near onramps in the Capitol Hill area and a line of WSP vehicles was deployed along I-5 through the city’s core waiting to intervene if necessary.
The nightly Women’s March, meanwhile, continued with a peaceful journey Saturday night that included a vigil for their fallen counterpart.
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