Bogdan Vechirko, the man who drove his gas tanker into a crowd of more than a thousand protesters on a closed-down highway in Minneapolis, has been charged with two felonies.
Video from the May 31 incident on I-35W showed Vechirko's truck barreling toward unsuspecting demonstrators, who scattered in panic. After he finally brought the truck to a stop, Vechirko was dragged out and bloodied by people who saw his actions as a deliberate attack. Others stepped in to protect him from the beating, and held Vechirko until he could be turned over to police.
Vechirko, 35, was arrested, and released three days later, with charges deferred "pending further investigation."
Thursday morning, the Hennnepin County Attorney's Office announced Vechirko, who lives in Otsego, will face one count of criminal vehicular operation, a gross misdemeanor, and another of threats of violence, a felony.
The highway was supposed to have been blocked off that evening to protect protesters calling for justice for George Floyd, killed less than a week earlier. Vechirko, who was making a round-trip delivery to a gas station, entered the highway using a ramp that had not yet been barricaded.
But the criminal complaint says he ignored obvious signs as he drove toward the crowd:
"Various collected videos show that in addition to the large crowd, there were multiple vehicles stopped on I-35W northbound as the road approached the bridge and that a number of vehicles were driving the wrong-direction up an entrance ramp to the freeway; all indicators that something was occurring up ahead."
Vechirko later admitted he'd seen cars pulling over on his way toward the crowd. Investigators also recreated Vechirko's same route down I-35W to prove he would've seen the demonstrators, who at that moment had paused to sit on the pavement, with enough time to stop his truck.
In speaking to police, Vechirko "admitted he was kind of in a hurry." He "hoped that if he went slow the crowd would let him past," according to the complaint, which asserts Vechirko "wanted to scare the crowd out of his path."
Vechirko also said he could have stopped in time, though his attorney told the Star Tribune his approach was, in fact, a safety maneuver.
“[Vechirko] relied on his professional instinct and training to avoid a hard brake that could have jackknifed the truck," Mark Solheim said, "and could have seriously injured or killed thousands of people, and instead slowed his vehicle while maneuvering through the parted crowd.”
Vechirko is not in custody. Outside of minor traffic offenses, he has a single criminal conviction for a 2012 misdemeanor domestic assault on his Minnesota record.
A threat of violence charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, and criminal vehicular operation is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine.