Updated: June 14, 2021 07:02 PM
Created: June 14, 2021 05:33 AM
A woman is dead and three others were hurt after a vehicle drove into a group of protesters Sunday night in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis.
According to the Minneapolis Police Department, at 11:39 p.m., police were monitoring a protest in the area of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South when they observed, on camera, a vehicle traveling eastbound on Lake Street and driving into a group of protesters.
There have been ongoing protests in Uptown since the shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., earlier this month.
Police said protesters pulled the suspect from the vehicle and began to strike the driver, according to witness reports. Officers arrived and took the driver into custody, transporting him to an area hospital for his injuries.
In an update later Monday morning, police said three other people were hurt, with injuries not considered to be life-threatening. Police said the woman, who later died, and a second person were transported to Hennepin County Medical Center via ambulance.
The woman was identified as Deona Knajdek, family confirmed with KSTP's Callan Gray.
Two others needing medical attention arrived at area hospitals and said their injuries were caused during the incident in Uptown.
All people involved in the crash are believed to be adults, police said.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the use of drugs or alcohol by the driver may be a contributing factor in the crash.
Zachariah Hill-Smith, who was at the scene when the crash happened, told KSTP's Ginna Roe that the area had been blocked off and people were barbecuing and dancing when he said, out of nowhere, a vehicle sped through the crowd and hit another car that was parked in the street.
"He sped up and went like 80 miles an hour and he smacked the car so hard it flipped," Hill-Smith said. "And the guy jumped out and started running and everybody chased him and grabbed him."
Hill-Smith said he was one of the three people hurt and that Knajdek was his friend.
"No one deserves to go out like that. No one," Hill-Smith said. "It hurts, it really, really does hurt a lot to see a good person die the way she died."
The medical examiner will release the nature and cause of Knajdek's death, in the days to come.
Knajdek's brother, Garrett, said Deona always helped anyone she could and worked to better the community.
"She was actually, probably, the greatest person I know," Garrett said.
Her mother, Deb Kenney, told KSTP that they also want the community to pray for the family of the driver.
"The gentleman that was also in this incident, he needs to live with this for the rest of his life and so does his family, and so we want to make sure we pray for that family as well," Kenney said. "Even though we're angered by his choice to make his impression like this on other people, I just want people not to be angry because of that, because the emotion we need to have right now is we need to be very grateful that Deona was here and she shared it all with us and she wouldn't want us to be angry with that man, she would've let it go in a minute and said, 'OK, now we could've done for him, what would've made that difference for him?'"
According to Garrett, Deona leaves behind two daughters, around the ages of 13 and 8. He also noted that she'd just moved back to Minnesota within the past year-and-a-half.
He hopes the community will remember how wonderful his sister was.
In a statement, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Knajdek's death "tragic" and said his office would be working with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on implementing safety measures in Uptown.
"The right to peacefully assemble and protest is a cornerstone of our democracy," Frey said. "Last night's tragic events resulted in the loss of a community member exercising that fundamental right and the injury of several others. We are keeping the victim's family and friends close as they grieve the loss of a loved one."
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477, or submit information online, and reference case number 21-128997.
Monday afternoon, Knajdek's workplace issued a statement via social media:
Today the Cottages Group lost a member of their management team, Deona Erickson (Knajdek). We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of her passing. She was a Program Manager who dedicated her time to overseeing two of our community residential sites, she put her heart into her work. She was one of the most selfless people we have had the pleasure of knowing, she earned the respect and trust of those she served because of her true compassion for her work. She will be deeply missed by those she served and served with. Our prayers go out to the family, friends and those who had the pleasure of knowing such a kindhearted woman.
A magnolia tree symbolizes magnificence. Its flowers representing nobility, dignity, and perseverance. To honor her legacy as the amazing human being she always was, we will be planting a magnolia tree at each of the locations she served in remembrance of her magnificent presence we all had the pleasure of being blessed with. The planting will take place on Wednesday at 1 p.m.
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