State investigators and officials, from Gov. Tim Walz to the Commissioner of Public Safety, are stating a truck driver who rolled his 18-wheeler onto the Interstate 35W bridge might have just been trying to beat the road closure, and didn’t know protestors had made their way onto the highway.
Officials said Monday, June 1 that Bogdan Vechirko, 35, was driving an empty tanker on the freeway and wound his way into Minneapolis just as ramps and highways were being closed on Sunday night, May 31.
Protestors were gathering on both sides of the Interstate bridge over the Mississippi River, demonstrating after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this week.
After rolling to a stop, Vechirko’s truck was swarmed by protestors. The man was pulled from his cab, beaten, and then rescued by men who tried to keep other men from doing more bodily harm. Police on scene arrived quickly and took Vechirko into custody. He was booked around 9 p.m. Sunday, May 31 by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, charged with assault.
Reports state Vechirko is an independent contractor for Ken Advantage Group, and the company’s logo was on the cab of the truck. Owner Ken Advantage issued this statement:
“Our hearts go out to all those who are grieving the events of this past week,” part of the statement read.
The company said it will work fully with the investigation to determine why Vechirko drove on the interstate after it was closed, and into the crowd.
Vechirko was taken to Hennepin County Health Services before being released into police custody.
At a Monday, June 1 press conference, officials said they had reviewed interviews and camera footage.
“We have not had any information that makes this seem like it was an intentional act,” said John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “We do have some info that he was speeding. We do have some info that he saw the crowd and initially, he panicked and he just kept barreling forward. Then he saw a young woman on a bike fall down in front of him and he slammed on the brakes. And he slid until the vehicle stopped.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the Vechirko stated in interviews he feels “incredibly lucky” that the truck didn’t kill someone in the incident, which happened around 5:30 p.m.
As for Vechirko’s route, the DPS commissioner said he likely was just ahead of road and ramp closures on major highways through Minneapolis.
“He was on 94 already and he turned onto 35 before we got barricades or trucks there to block off his access to 35. This was his second run of the day. He was running empty, there was no fuel in that tanker truck,” said Harrington.