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Charges: Drunk driver accelerated 'to jump barricade' in crash that killed protester

Prosecutors say it was "an extreme and violent intentional act."
Deona Marie Knajdek.

Deona Marie Knajdek.

The man who is accused of plowing into a crowd of protesters in Minneapolis Sunday night, killing Deona Marie Knajdek Erickson and injuring three others, admitted he sped up to "jump" a barricade, charges say. 

Nicholas Kraus, 35, of St. Paul, is charged with intentional second-degree murder, accused of being drunk when he crashed into protesters. He is also charged with two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon.

At the time of the fatal crash, he had multiple DWI convictions, he didn't have a driver's license and his SUV was registered in another person's name. 

Erickson and others were near West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South Sunday evening protesting against the June 3 law enforcement killing of Winston Smith. At around 11:39 p.m., a motorist plowed through the gathering, injuring three people and killing Knajdek, police said.

Erickson's brother, Garrett Knajdek told the Star Tribune she'd parked her car as a barricade to protect protesters when the SUV struck her vehicle and then her vehicle hit her. 

According to the criminal complaint, Kraus told investigators he saw a car that was being used as a barricade and he believed he needed to get over it, so he floored it in an attempt to jump the barricade. 

He told police there were a number of people in the area, including some people next to the barricade, charges say. He admitted he thought he may have hit a person or people as he was driving at the barricade. 

Witnesses had told police the vehicle accelerating as Kraus approached the barricade, the complaint states, noting surveillance video confirms witness accounts the vehicle was speeding up before the crash. 

One witness, who suffered leg and rib injuries, said he was standing next to Knajdek when he saw the SUV coming toward them, noting the SUV hit the vehicle that was set up as a barricade and that vehicle hit them. 

Another protester, who was also injured, told police he was on the sidewalk when he heard people yelling "Car" and when he looked up, he saw the SUV accelerating toward the group, hitting the barricade vehicle, noting he got pushed into a chain-link fence. 

“The defendant, Mr. Kraus, in the Uptown fatal incident in which he struck and killed a peaceful female protestor while intoxicated, and injured additional protestors, is an extreme and violent intentional act. His behavior and admittance to intentionally driving towards the protestors is one important reason why we have charged him with intentional second-degree murder," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement.

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Kraus will make his first court appearance at 1:30 p.m. on June 17.

A number of activists have denounced Kraus as a "terrorist" and "white supremacist" on social media. The criminal complaint makes no note of any political motivation in Kraus' actions. 

Knajdek, originally from Pine City, was a mom of two daughters, ages 11 and 13; worked as a program manager at The Cottages Group in Burnsville; and was active in social justice issues. She was outspoken about law enforcement and police shootings. On social media in the days before her death, she posted a photo of Smith saying "we are going to get change for you and all the others."

Knajdek was set to turn 32 the week after her death, as well as mark one year of sobriety. 

Protesters have continued to gather in Uptown, holding vigils to remember Knajdek and Smith. On Tuesday night, police cracked down on protesters along Lake Street and removed barricades activists had set up to block traffic. 

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