Seattle man who ploughed through protesters charged with homicide

A lawyer for defendant Dawit Kelete says there was 'nothing political' about the 'horrible, horrible accident'.

    Protesters hold a vigil to honour Summer Taylor, who died after she was hit by a car during a July 4 protest in Seattle, Washington, the United States [David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP]
    Protesters hold a vigil to honour Summer Taylor, who died after she was hit by a car during a July 4 protest in Seattle, Washington, the United States [David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP]

    Prosecutors in Washington state on Wednesday filed three felony charges against the man who hit two protesters with his car, killing one, while driving on a Seattle highway 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 is scheduled to be arraigned on July 22 and remains in custody on $1.2m bail.

    Kelete drove around vehicles that were parked on the Interstate 5 highway to protect the protesters, hitting two people at about 1:40am on Saturday, according to the Washington State Patrol.

    Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old veterinary clinic worker, suffered critical injuries and died on Saturday night. Diaz Love, 32, from Portland, Oregon, was sent to hospital in a serious condition. Prosecutors said Love suffered multiple leg and arm fractures and internal injuries and remains in hospital.

    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".

    'Nothing political'

    "There's absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever," Browne told The Associated Press news agency. "My client is in tears. He's very remorseful. He feels tremendous guilt."

    Seattle protest car
    Emergency workers tend to an injured person on the ground after a driver sped through a protest-related closure on the Interstate 5 freeway in Seattle, Washington. Dawit Kelete, 27, was charged with vehicular homicide on Wednesday [James Anderson/AP Photo]

    Kelete is originally from Eritrea, in northeastern Africa, and is a United States citizen, Browne said. He lives with his parents in Seattle, and they are very religious, he said.

    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.

    Kelete was travelling at highway speeds when he first noticed the demonstrators, the document said.

    Protests closed road

    The protesters screamed and scattered as the car approached. A graphic video shows the vehicle approaching at high speed. The car appeared to swerve slightly as it came towards two people still in the road and slid sideways as it hit the two protesters, throwing them into the air. The driver slowed and turned on his hazard lights 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," prosecutors said.

    Protesters hold a vigil to honor Summer Taylor, who died after she was hit by a car during a recent protest, on July 5, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. A driver struck protesters early Saturday morning d
    Protesters hold a vigil to honour Summer Taylor, who died after she was hit by a car being driven by 27-year-old Dawit Kelete, in Seattle, Washington [David Ryder/Getty Images].

    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 OK."

    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 closed a section of I-5 for 19 days in a row because of the protesters, troopers said. Going forward, officials said they would not allow protesters to enter I-5 and would arrest any pedestrians found on the highway.

    SOURCE: AP news agency