Bogdan Vechirko, 36, had been charged with felony threats of violence and criminal vehicular operation over the incident. But on Friday, his attorneys reached a deal for both those charges to be dropped, as long as Mr Vechirko pays restitution, attends three sentencing circles, and doesn’t break any laws for the next year.
The deal, termed “continuance without prosecution,” may come as a shock to anyone who witnessed the horrifying incident. On 31 May, 2020, thousands of people gathered on the Interstate 35W bridge to protest the police killing of Mr Floyd, which had happened just days earlier. As the protesters marched, Mr Vechirko’s 18-wheeler came barreling down the bridge, sending demonstrators leaping out of the way.
“It was one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever seen,” John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, told WCCO at the time.
Miraculously, no one was killed. Prosecutors said at least one protester suffered abrasions as she jumped out of the truck’s way, but mentioned no other injuries.
Even as he agreed to the continuance deal, the judge overseeing the case admitted how dangerous Mr Vechirko’s driving had been.
“I don’t think anybody looking at that would have taken any bet that no one would be seriously injured,” Judge William Koch said on Friday.
Mr Vechirko told investigators that he was in “kind of a hurry” and was trying to “scare” protesters out of the way.
His lawyer, Mark Solheim, told the court that his client’s driving actually saved lives.
“The social media videos make clear that Mr Vechirko was faced with a terrifying situation, yet still made efforts to safely remove himself and his tanker from the situation without catastrophic injuries or death,” Mr Solheim said.
One of the protesters who narrowly avoided Mr Vechirko’s truck, Bennett Hartz, didn’t see it that way. Mr Hartz told the court that he still suffers from nightmares and post-traumatic stress due to the incident, and called it a “miracle” that no one was killed.
Under the continuance deal, Mr Vechirko only needs to attend one more sentencing circle, as he’s already gone to two. Officials have not specified how much he must pay in restitution.