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A Seattle driver was charged Wednesday with three felonies for allegedly hitting two protesters – one of whom was killed – while driving on a freeway that was the site of a Black Lives Matter demonstration on the Fourth of July.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney's office has charged 27-year-old Dawit Kelete with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and reckless driving.
Dawit Kelete wears handcuffs chained to his waist as he walks into a court appearance Monday, July 6, 2020, in Seattle.
The Washington State Patrol says Kelete drove around vehicles that were parked on Interstate 5 to protect the protesters, hitting two people around 1:40 a.m. Saturday.
Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old veterinary clinic worker, suffered critical injuries and died Saturday night. Diaz Love, 32, from Portland, Oregon, was hospitalized with multiple leg and arm fractures and internal injuries and remains hospitalized, prosecutors said.
Kelete's lawyer, John Henry Browne, said his client, who is Black, did not intentionally hit the protesters.
"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, in northeastern Africa, and is a U.S. citizen, Browne said. He lives with his parents in Seattle, and they're very religious, he said.
A security camera captured Kelete's Jaguar XJL driving the wrong way up the Stewart Street I-5 exit ramp, past numerous warning signs that said "Wrong Way," according to charging documents. Kelete was traveling at freeway speeds when he first noticed the demonstrators, the document said.
A graphic video shows the vehicle approaching protesters at a high rate of speed. It appeared to swerve slightly before hitting the two protesters, sending them into the air. The driver slowed and turned on his flashers just after impact.
"The defendant stopped several hundred yards from the scene," prosecutors said. "He was approached by witnesses who yelled at him to exit the vehicle. After the witness began hitting and pushing his vehicle, the defendant drove away at a high speed."
Kelete was followed by one of the protesters, who was able to stop his car by driving in front of him until state troopers arrived. Kelete 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."
Seattle has been the site of prolonged unrest following the May police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
An investigation into the Saturday-morning incident is ongoing. The King County Prosecutor’s office said additional charges may be added or amended based on the information that may be sent to its office.
Kelete is scheduled to be arraigned on July 22 and remains in custody on $1.2 million bail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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