SEATTLE — Prosecutors on Wednesday filed three felony charges against the man who hit two protesters with his car, killing one, while driving on a Seattle freeway that was closed for Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney's office charged Dawit Kelete, 27, with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving. He's scheduled to be arraigned on July 22 and remains in custody on $1.2 million bail.
Kelete drove around vehicles that were parked on Interstate 5 to protect the protesters, hitting two people at about 1:40 a.m. Saturday, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old veterinary clinic worker, suffered critical injuries and died Saturday night. Diaz Love, 32, from Portland, Oregon, was hospitalized in serious condition. Prosecutors said Love suffered multiple leg and arm fractures and internal injuries and remains hospitalized.
In a note posted on Facebook late Sunday, Love reported being “alive and stable.”
“In a lot of pain. I cannot believe Summer was murdered,” the post said. “If they thought this murder would make us back down, they are very wrong. Very wrong.”
Kelete’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, said his client, who is Black, did not intentionally hit the protesters. He said the crash was a “horrible, horrible accident."
“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. During his only court appearance, the judge prohibited photographers from taking pictures of his face because he had not yet been charged.
A message seeking comment from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County said they have no comment on the charges.
Kelete was the owner of the Jaguar XJL and was alone in the car, according to the state patrol.
A security camera on the REI building captured Kelete's car driving the wrong way up the Stewart Street I-5 exit ramp, past numerous warning signs that said “Wrong Way,” according to the charging document. Since it was an exit ramp, “a driver must make a deliberate and sharp right U-turn in order to drive southbound on I-5,” the document said.
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 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,” prosecutors said.
He was followed by one of the protesters, who was able to stop Kelete's 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 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests.
The state patrol had closed a section of I-5 for 19 days in a row because of the protesters, troopers said. Going forward, officials said they won’t allow protesters to enter I-5 and will arrest pedestrians on the freeway.
Martha Bellisle, The Associated Press