St. Louis police say they are unsure of the sequence of events that led an armed minivan driver to plow into several protesters Wednesday night at the intersection of Euclid and Maryland avenues in the Central West End.
Police spokeswoman Leah Freeman says the department briefly detained the unnamed 57-year-old man after he flashed a gun at the angry crowd that surrounded his vehicle after the collision. But despite video footage and numerous witnesses congregated at the intersection, an incident report provided by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department cites "contradicting statements from the driver and individuals at the scene" as reason the man was released that night without charges.
One of the victims struck by the minivan tells Daily RFT there should be no confusion about what happened that night, placing blame solely on the driver.
Listed on the incident report as a Pedestrian #2, the 36-year-old victim requested his name not be printed due to fear of retaliation from the driver or his friends. Let's call him "Frank."
The collision and chaotic aftermath was captured at the 20-second mark on the video below, and the sequence is replayed in slow-motion at 1:54. The minivan can clearly be seen turning the corner with a figure crouched on the hood.
According to the police report, the driver stated that he approached the intersection around 8 p.m. when protesters began striking and throwing objects at his car.
"Fearing for his safety, the driver attempted to drive around the group, and as he drove, the above pedestrians were struck," reads the report.
But that's not what Frank says he experienced. First, he says, there were three people struck, not just the two listed on the incident report. Plus, he says, the collision occurred as 70 demonstrators were beginning to lie down for a "die in" in the middle of Maryland Plaza.
"People were starting to lay down, and they said, 'Hey, we need marshals to maintain the perimeter and make sure no one gets run over,'" Frank says. "[The minivan driver] was trying to come around the corner, so I stepped in front of him. He made a face at me and gestured that he wanted to go left. So I raised my hands up and motioned him back."
After about 30 seconds of back-and-forth gesturing, Frank says he was joined by two other protesters who also put their bodies in front of the vehicle.
"The road behind him was clear, he would have had no problem backing up or making a three-point turn, but instead he decided to come at us."
Frank describes the minivan "lurching" forward two or three times before making brief contact with protesters' legs.
"So we put our hands on the car, because he obviously didn't care that he was gong to hit us. As soon as our hands were on the car, then he gunned it," Frank says. "I was on the driver's side of the car, and me and the guy on the passenger side both kind of bounced off and sidestepped it, but the person in the middle had no where to go, it was either under the wheels or on the hood. So they kind of jumped up onto the hood, and were carried as he made the turn."
Much of Frank's story appears to be corroborated by the video, as well as photos taken by St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson
In another Tweet, Carson writes that he saw the man draw the pistol before the minivan's rear window was broken.
.@PRETTYRAMSFAN Yes he flashed gun before window was broken, in the photo that we ran it he was reacting to protesters breaking window— David Carson (@PDPJ) December 4, 2014
It should be noted, however, that the video and photos don't show the seconds immediately preceding the driver's decision to drive through the protesters. Freeman, the police spokeswoman, told the Post-Dispatch that police aren't sure if the protesters jumped onto the vehicle or if the motorist callously drove through the protesters in an attempt to get through the crowd.
Frank and other eyewitnesses (including one in the above video) also mention that the driver attempted to flash some kind of badge at the protesters before making the turn. Police spokespersons have yet to respond to Daily RFT's questions about the badge.
Here's the full incident report.
Incident: Accident / Pedestrian Struck
Location: 300 block of N. Euclid
Date/Time: 12/3/14 @ 19:44
Driver: 57-year old white male
Pedestrian #1: 18-year old black male
Pedestrian #2: 36-year old white male
The driver stated as he approached the intersection of Maryland and Euclid in his vehicle, he observed a large group of people protesting in the intersection. The driver entered the intersection attempted to pass the group. A group of protesters then surrounded his vehicle and began striking, banging and throwing objects at the vehicle, breaking the rear window. Fearing for his safety, the driver attempted to drive around the group and as he drove, the above pedestrians were struck. The driver stated that upon realizing his rear window had shattered, he retrieved his firearm while inside of his vehicle, then contacted this department. Officers responded and the driver was detained pending further investigation into the incident. Officers observed the vehicle had sustained a broken rear window, a dent and recovered a large rock inside the rear passenger area of the vehicle. The pedestrians sustained minor injuries and were treated by EMS at the scene. They refused further medical attention. Due to contradicting statements from the driver and individuals at the scene, officers will conduct further investigation to determine if charges will be applied for. The driver was released pending further investigation. The investigation is ongoing.