Bogdan Vechirko, 35, who was identified by law enforcement as the truck driver, was arrested Sunday evening in connection with the incident. Officials who initially called the incident “disturbing,” later confirmed Vechirko hadn’t acted with malicious intent. He ultimately was not criminally charged, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday.
“We don’t have any information that makes this seem like this was an intentional act,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington stated.
No protesters were struck by the truck, state officials said.
Dramatic video and aerial footage of the incident, captured by protesters and local news channels, showed the hulking semi rig speeding towards a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators who had flooded I-35 West in Minneapolis. The truck slowed to a stop just as throngs of protesters scrambled to escape its path. Demonstrators swarmed the semi-truck as it came to a full stop.
“You winced because you imagined you would see bodies under the tires of that truck,” When you didn’t see that, it was frankly possibly a miracle,” Harrington said in a statement.
Vechirko hadn’t breached any barricades and was present on the stretch of freeway prior to the interstate being shutdown by authorities, KARE reported.
“From the traffic cams we know the driver of the tanker truck was on the freeway already,” Harrington told reporters.
Harrington said Vechirko allegedly slammed on his breaks after seeing a woman on a bicycle fall down.
“[He] saw the crowd [and] he panicked,” Harrington added.
Other witnesses said they heard Vechirko laying on the horn as his truck sped down the highway.
"We could hear his horn," one protester told the NBC affiliate. "He was holding the horn down."
Officials estimated that there had been between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters on the bridge when the truck came flying at the throng of demonstrators, according to local television station KARE. Authorities didn’t specify how fast the semi was traveling.
Gov. Tim Waltz referred to the footage of the semi racing towards the Floyd protests as “horrifying.”
The incident is still under investigation, authorities said. Vechirko was booked on suspicion of assault following the incident but was later released without being charged, the Star Tribune reported. He suffered injuries that were not life-threatening and was taken to a local hospital, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Those who knew the embattled truck driver personally were quick to come to his defense.
“He’s a great guy,” Lonnie McQuirten, a black gas station owner in South Minneapolis, told KARE. “That’s it.”
McQuirten told local reporters that Vechirko often delivers fuel to his gas station.
“Obviously he didn’t know there were people on the highway and I also didn’t know people were on the highway because I was on the highway at the exact same time,” McQuirten said. “He was not racist at all. He was doing his job, that’s it!”
Protests have erupted across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, who was killed during an interaction with Minneapolis police officers last week. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop accused of killing Floyd, has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
Meanwhile, law enforcement discouraged the public from protesting Floyd’s death in highly trafficked areas.
“The freeway is a very dangerous place to be when you are protesting,” State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said in a separate statement. “The freeway is just not the place to do it.”
Minnesota authorities appeared to mace demonstrators who lingered at the scene following the truck driver's apprehension, according to videos posted by protesters.
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