One person was killed and another was seriously injured after a driver plowed into a nightly protest on a closed stretch of Interstate 5 in Seattle early Saturday.
Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old from Seattle, died Saturday night at Harborview Medical Center, said Harborview Medical Center spokesperson Susan Gregg. Diaz Love, a 32-year-old from Portland, Oregon, was in serious condition in the intensive-care unit as of Sunday morning.
Washington State Patrol said the driver was Dawit Kelete, 27, of Seattle. He was booked into King County Jail on Saturday morning on investigation of felony vehicular assault. Troopers don’t believe impairment was a factor and said Kelete drove the wrong way on the Stewart Street off-ramp to enter the interstate, which had been partially shut down in response to protesters.
State Patrol announced Saturday evening that it would no longer allow protesters on the interstate.
The change in strategy comes as protests against police brutality and racism enter their second month in Seattle. The hit-and-run was the latest traumatic event to occur at or near protest areas, including shootings near the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, which was shut down by police Wednesday.
“Blocking a freeway is a crime and no longer are we going to enable that criminal conduct to continue,” said State Patrol Capt. Ron Mead, who made the decision to no longer close the interstate. “We are not going to be allowing protesters to access the freeway unimpeded, and there are consequences for criminal conduct.”
Mead said additional troopers would be in the area Saturday night and “they have been instructed to enforce the law.”
A probable-cause statement outlining the State Patrol’s case against Kelete did not include possible motive.
“The driver was reserved and appeared sullen throughout his time in custody,” the probable-cause statement said. “At one point he asked if the injured pedestrians were okay.”
A hearing for Kelete is scheduled for Monday, and a judge will then make a decision regarding bail, according to prosecutors.
“He didn’t stop“
State Patrol closed both directions of I-5 along downtown Seattle shortly before midnight Friday, when it appeared protesters would enter the roadway. Troopers and personnel from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) used their vehicles to block on-ramps between Interstate 90 and Highway 520, State Patrol spokesperson Chase Van Cleave said.
Protesters with the Black Femme March stopped on the interstate on their way back to Capitol Hill after going on their nightly march to the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct. Moments before the car struck the demonstrators, the crowd had been dancing to the Cupid Shuffle, videos show.
“It was a festive environment,” said Aaron, a protester who didn’t want his last name used out of concern for his safety.
Witnesses captured video that showed a white car heading south at a high speed around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. It swerved around two vehicles positioned as a barrier to protect protesters across the I-5 lanes. Video showed the car careened toward the protesters and struck two, sending them flying into the air.
Love, one of the victims, had been livestreaming the march for two hours. It ended abruptly, after shouts of “Car!” could be heard, then screeching tires and the sound of impact.
“I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t seem like an accident at all. He didn’t hit his brakes, he didn’t stop,” Aaron said.
After hitting the protesters near Olive Way, the driver went south for about two miles before police stopped him near Edgar Martinez Drive South, according to State Patrol.
State Patrol tweeted out two pictures of the driver’s car, a white Jaguar with significant damage to its bumper and windshield.
Taylor and Love had both livestreamed video from protests in recent weeks.
Katelyn Hoberecht, who worked with Taylor at the Urban Animal veterinary clinics, said Taylor had been a frequent presence at protests.
“Summer has been there since Day One standing up for Black lives. Staying out all day and night, while still working full time taking care of animals,” Hoberecht said. “Summer talked me about the protests, and how incredible it was to be a part of something so huge. A part of history.”
A GoFundMe set up around noon Saturday for Taylor, who used nonbinary pronouns, had raised more than $40,000 by nighttime.
“Summer is an incredibly strong and independent spirit. They are a bright and caring person,” wrote the GoFundMe organizer, Becky Gilliam, who went on to say Taylor “elicits joy and laughter in others.”
A fundraiser was also set up for Diaz Love.
“Diaz is a huge animal lover and fights for the rights of people everywhere… wanting to help any way they can,” wrote its organizer, Abigail Annable.
Incidents of drivers striking demonstrators have been documented across the country, including in Seattle. In June, just as Seattle’s protest movement was picking up steam, a man drove directly into the heart of protest activity in Capitol Hill and shot a man in the arm. Ten days later, a man drove into a crowd of protesters in Portland.
In an incident an hour and a half before the hit-and-run, which Seattle police say is unrelated, an off-duty Seattle police officer driving a personal vehicle tried to move through a crowd at Olive Way and Boren Avenue. Police say the crowd surrounded the officer’s vehicle, and another car struck the officer’s car.
State Patrol had shut down the interstate 19 nights in a row in response to protests, said Capt. Mead, who oversees the agency’s district that includes King County. For weeks, troopers operated in response to protesters’ movements, shutting down a stretch of the interstate when it looked as if protesters would enter the roadway.
WSDOT would use signs along the interstate to alert drivers about closures, while State Patrol and WSDOT vehicles blocked on-ramps in affected areas.
“With no effective way of stopping large crowds from entering its lengthy borders, temporarily shutting the roadway is our best measure to avoid the dangerous mixture of freeway speed, vehicles, and pedestrians and to end the disruptions as quickly as possible,” State Patrol Chief John Batiste wrote in a June 27 statement.
After a driver hit protesters, though, Mead said entering the interstate “is just inherently unsafe.” Mead said he recognized the protesters were victims in the hit-and-run, but that he could not guarantee protesters’ safety if they entered the roadway.
“No one should risk their life for demanding better from our city, state and country,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a tweet.
Durkan, who has faced criticism for police officers’ use of tear gas, pepper spray and force against protesters, said the city supports the victims and witnesses from Saturday.
A spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday afternoon that he “continues to support the constitutionally protected right to protest and for those who do it to be safe from harm.”
Inslee’s office did not immediately respond with comment on State Patrol’s change in strategy.
Seattle Times reporter Michelle Baruchman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.