By Martha Bellisle / Associated Press
SEATTLE — A judge on Monday set a $1.2 million bail for the man accused of driving a Jaguar onto a closed Seattle freeway and hitting two protesters, killing one and seriously injuring the other.
Dawit Kelete, who is black, drove the car around vehicles that were parked on Interstate 5 to protect a group of Black Femme March demonstrators, part of the Black Lives Matter movement protesting racial inequality and police violence. The car hit two people and sped away about 1:40 a.m. Saturday, police said.
Over the weekend, a judge found probable cause to hold Kelete on an investigation of vehicular assault.
But the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has yet to file charges against Kelete. “A charging decision is expected by Wednesday afternoon,” spokesman Casey McNerthney said.
Kelete’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, said the crash was a “horrible, horrible accident” and was not intentional.
“There’s absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever,” Browne told The Associated Press. “My client is in tears. He’s very remorseful. He feels tremendous guilt.”
Kelete is originally from Eritrea and is a U.S. citizen, Browne said. He lives with his family in Seattle, and they’re very religious, he said.
Kelete was the owner of the Jaguar XJL and was alone in the car, according to a Washington State Patrol report submitted to the court late Saturday.
The protesters screamed and scattered as the car approached. A graphic video shows the vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed. It appeared to swerve slightly as it came toward two people still in the road. The car slid sideways as it hit the two protesters, sending them into the air. The driver turned on his flashers just after impact, and drove away.
Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old veterinary clinic worker, suffered critical injuries and died Saturday night. Diaz Love, 32, from Portland, Oregon, was in serious condition.
“I’m alive and stable,” Love posted on Facebook late Sunday. “In a lot of pain. I cannot believe Summer was murdered. If they thought this murder would make us back down, they are very wrong. Very wrong.
Love also said: “My FB is filled with death threats, that and only being able to use one hand has me going slow. I deeply appreciate and feel all the love y’all are sending me.”
After Kelete was stopped by state troopers, he agreed to take a field sobriety test for drugs and alcohol. The tests showed he was not impaired, the state patrol said.
“The driver was reserved and appeared sullen throughout his time in custody,” Trooper James McGuire wrote in the arrest report. “At one point he asked if the injured pedestrians were okay.”
Kelete, 27, was booked into the King County Correctional Facility on Saturday morning on two counts of vehicular assault.
Seattle has been the site of prolonged unrest following the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests. Dozens of people were arrested last week in connection with protests as demonstrations continued after authorities cleared the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” zone in downtown Seattle.
The state patrol had closed a section of I-5 for 19 days in a row because of the protesters, troopers said. It had been closed to traffic for more than an hour before the crash.
The state patrol said going forward it won’t allow protesters to enter I-5 and would arrest pedestrians on the freeway.