Video may be difficult for some to watch. A tanker truck ran into a group of thousands gathered on the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis. The group was taking a knee to protest the police-involved death of George Floyd. Video Courtesy: MnDOT
The peaceful march of thousands of protestors Sunday turned into a scene of panic, as a tanker truck barreled towards the crowd on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis just before 6 p.m.
State officials say the trucker may not have realized the highways had been closed. No injuries among demonstrators have been confirmed, they said.
Marchers were still on the streets of downtown Minneapolis as the 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. And officials gave an ominous warning about continued arson attacks, after several caches of flammable materials were found both in neighborhoods where there have already been fires and “in cars we’ve stopped as recently as this morning,” said John Harrington, state public safety commissioner. Some of the caches look like they may have been planted days ago and some only in the last 24 hours or so, he said.
Police are also finding stolen vehicles with plates removed that are being used to transport the flammable materials. Looted goods and weapons also have been found in the stolen cars, he said.
Harrington said it’s critical people stay home “in this very troubling time. I will ask you and I will beg you please stay home.”
Earlier, witnesses on the 35W bridge over the Mississippi River said dozens of marchers were sitting or had taken a knee for a moment of silence when the truck came hurtling towards them and stopped halfway across the bridge. Then demonstrators swarmed the cab and appeared to drag the driver out of the truck.
Minneapolis police closed in and took the driver, who was injured, into custody. The state said it had no confirmation of any injuries, but some may have sought medical attention themselves.
Harrington said between 5,000 and 6,000 people were on the bridge at the time. The State Patrol and the BCA are investigating the incident as a criminal matter.
As far as officials can tell from MDOT cameras at this time, Harrington said the truck “was on the freeway already as we were closing the freeway.” Twin Cities freeways were closed to traffic beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday. It does not appear he went around any barricades, Harrington said.
He didn’t know if the driver was injured by the truck crash itself or the protesters.
Drew Valle, a special education teacher at Minneapolis Washburn High School, said cars still driving on the roadway were going slowly to the right of the throngs of people when the truck came speeding towards the marchers.
“He wasn’t stopping. He was beeping loudly and driving into a crowd of people,” said Valle, visibly shaken. “That’s the same kind of malice that brought us here. It’s a callous disregard for someone’s humanity.”
Melanie Ramos of Minneapolis said: “A truck came. The horns were blaring. It was picking up speed. It was plowing down the highway into the protesters. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”
Dominic Kerr said he could smell the fuel and hear it “sloshing around” as the tanker approached.
“He was coming about 30 mph. I know at least one person who definitely needs help” Kerr said.
In a Sunday evening news conference, Gov. Tim Walz described footage of the truck driving into the crowd as a “horrifying image” and said that it underscores the “volatile” nature of the situation here in the Twin Cities.
Walz said law enforcement responded immediately to “protect the peaceful protesters” and that there are no confirmed cases of injuries involving protesters at this time.
“I don’t know the motives of the driver at this point in time,” he said. “But at this point in time to not have tragedy and many deaths is an amazing thing.”
Walz said the truck driver has been released from HCMC and is in police custody.
Thousands of people were marching to protest the death of George Floyd had shut town two major interstates in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Sunday afternoon.
Westbound Interstate-94 in St. Paul was shut down midafternoon as about 1,500 people left a rally at the State Capitol and marched toward Minneapolis before exiting on Lexington Parkway and returning east on University Avenue.
St. Paul police said the Justice for George Floyd march appears to be organized and peaceful.
In Minneapolis, thousands of people who met at U.S. Bank Stadium crossed the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and marched south on Interstate 35W. They paused on the bridge and took a knee, chanting: “What’s his name? George Floyd!”
Before the marches, Walz had ordered highways and interstates to start closing at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., and the closures will be more extensive than originally planned.
Charles Adams of Chicago was visiting his daughter in Minneapolis and joined the march.
“It’s mind-blowing,” he said. “I really was impressed by the solidarity and the peacefulness of it. I hope that we would look in the mirror and realize that this is a real thing, and address it.”
In other developments, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Sunday that he has asked Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to assist in the cases arising out of the death of George Floyd.
Ellison has accepted Freeman’s invitation to be a full partner in further proceedings in this case. Last week, a number of elected officials asked that Ellison take over the prosecution because they did not have confidence in Freeman.
This is a developing story. Please return to startribune.com for updates.
Staff writers John Reinan, Pam Louwagie and Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.