Man Jailed in Fatal Crash at Minneapolis Rally Has Past DWIs
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis police on Tuesday identified the man suspected of driving into a crowd of demonstrators, killing one and injuring three others as a 35-year-old from St. Paul with multiple convictions for driving while impaired.
Police say Nicholas Kraus was booked into the Hennepin County jail on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide. Online jail records show he was arrested early Monday and was being held without bail. He’s also being held on suspicion of driving after a license was canceled and providing false information to police, records show.
(This undated photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office shows Nicholas Kraus. Minneapolis police on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, identified the man who drove into a crowd of demonstrators, killing one and injuring three others, as Kraus, from St. Paul, with multiple convictions for driving while impaired. Police say Kraus was booked into the Hennepin County jail on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP))
The Hennepin County jail does not accept messages for people in custody and a phone message could not be left for Kraus. Prosecutors have asked for an extension until noon Wednesday to file charges. It was not immediately clear if Kraus had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
A woman, who family members identified as 31-year-old Deona Knajdek, was killed Sunday night and three other people were injured when Kraus allegedly drove into demonstrators during a rally in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.
Protests have been ongoing in Uptown since the June 3 shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., a 32-year-old Black father of three, by members of a federal U.S. Marshals Service task force. Authorities said they were trying to arrest Smith on a warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm when he displayed a handgun from inside a parked vehicle and task force members fired. Authorities also say evidence shows Smith fired his gun from inside the vehicle, but a female passenger has said she never saw him with a gun.
On Tuesday, city crews began clearing and reopening streets near the site of Smith’s shooting and Knajdek’s death, but after police left, protesters moved back in and blocked traffic.
Protesters told radio station WCCO they want the busy Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue intersection shut down much like the site of Floyd’s arrest is closed to traffic and memorialized as George Floyd Square.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said: “This is a safety concern. We can’t have a major commercial corridor like this shut down. We can’t have unauthorized closure of our streets, period. People need service.”
Witnesses have said the driver of an SUV in Sunday’s crash, now identified as Kraus, struck a parked car, tossing it into the crowd of demonstrators. Police have not confirmed that account. Police said protesters pulled Kraus from his vehicle and witnesses reported demonstrators struck him. Kraus was arrested and treated for injuries at a hospital.
Police have said Kraus’ motive wasn’t clear, but that a preliminary investigation indicated drugs or alcohol may have been involved. Kraus has five convictions for driving while impaired dating back to a 2007 incident, according to online court records. Court records also show his driver’s license was canceled in 2013 because he was found to be “inimical to public safety.”
A search warrant affidavit obtained by TV station KARE-11 says Kraus admitted several times that he was the driver, without being asked, but when asked specific questions he gave illogical and irrelevant answers. Kraus told police his name was Jesus Christ and Tim Burton, that he had been a carpenter for 2,000 years, and that he wanted to get his children to the Super Bowl, the affidavit says.
Police noted his pupils were small and didn’t react to a flashlight. A field sobriety test could not be performed because of his injuries.
The affidavit says a city camera captured the incident and appears to show no brake lights before the crash.
On Tuesday, police asked for the public’s help in locating a person who climbed a pole and spray painted a city-owned camera. Police say this particular camera would have recorded the crash had it not been disabled.
Other injuries and deaths have been reported involving vehicles at protests across the U.S. as people have increasingly taken to the streets to press their grievances. In Minneapolis, marching onto freeways has become a common tactic. Last year, a semitrailer rolled into a crowd marching on a closed Minneapolis freeway. No one was seriously injured.
Republican politicians in several states, including Oklahoma, Florida and Iowa, have sought legal immunity for drivers who hit protesters.