During the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, a semi-tanker, traveling down I-35W, almost drove into a crowd of peaceful protesters. The driver, Bogdan Vechirko of Ostego, Minnesota is currently charged with felony and gross misdemeanor charges. The felony is for committing threats of violence. The gross misdemeanor charge is for criminal vehicular operation. It is unclear whether Vechirko intended to harm the protestors and there is also an ongoing debate as to whether he was lawfully operating the tanker at the time of the incident. However, the protesters apparently did think that his actions were intentional, as some attacked him after dragging him out of his truck. However, others attempted to intervene and protect the driver. The question is what could happen with the pending criminal charges?
Vechirko is currently charged with threats of violence, which is a felony level offense under Minnesota law. Threats of violence include committing a crime of violence with the intent to terrorize such that the crime causes the evacuation of the immediate premises. An example of a threat of violence may be likened to a bomb threat, where someone threatens and likely has intent or purpose to cause fear of harm to individuals. Committing a threat of violence is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. In some cases, the defendant, if convicted, may be required to serve time in prison or jail, as well as pay fines.
To convict Vechirko for threats of violence, the state must prove the following: proof of a direct or indirect threat of violence with the intent to cause terror or serious public inconvenience. It is difficult to determine whether or not Vechirko intended to cause harm or terror to the individuals on I-35W. Vechirko entered the highway, which did not happen to be barricaded at the time, and according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, it is difficult to determine whether or not Vechirko knew that the protestors were on the bridge at the time of his close encounter. These are questions that will have to be decided by a jury. If Vechirko is convicted of threats of violence, it must be grounded on proof of intentionally attempting to terrorize and or cause bodily harm to the protestors on the I-35W bridge.
Vechirko is also being charged with criminal vehicular operation, which is a gross misdemeanor level offense. Vechirko may be convicted if he caused bodily harm with his negligent driving practices, or due to being under the influence of a substance. Bodily harm is defined as any sort of injury or bodily impairment caused by another individual. In this case, no bodily harm was directly caused to any of the protestors by Vechirko’s truck, as he did not strike anyone. However, one woman reported suffering abrasions while jumping out of the way of the truck. Sentencing for criminal vehicular operation ranges from one to five years in prison and fines ranging from $3,000 to $10,000. At times, a convicted person may be required to serve time in prison or jail and pay fines. Because Vechirko is charged with a gross misdemeanor, the maximum penalty he faces for this offense is up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $3,000, or both. To convict Vechirko for criminal vehicle operation, the state must prove he was driving in a negligent manner, while also having caused any form of bodily harm to another individual. There is still debate regarding Vechirko’s intent while driving the truck and that will ultimately be left to a jury to decide.
It remains somewhat unclear whether the state will be able to obtain convictions on either of the charges that have been brought against Vechirko. There may be a lack of evidence that would suggest that his actions were intentional. Intent must be proven to convict the tanker driver of the felony charge. However, there does seem to be some stronger evidence that he could be convicted of criminal vehicular operation. According to reports, Vechirko did have adequate time to bring the vehicle to a halt, long before he would have met the protestors on the bridge. This would give stronger support for accusations of negligently operating the vehicle. However, evidence for Vechirko causing direct bodily harm to any individuals may be lacking, despite one woman sustaining abrasions. Bodily harm could possibly be proven if the woman claims that Vechirko was the reason for her injuries. However, the charge could also be dismissed because Vechirko did not directly strike anyone with his vehicle. Vechirko’s first court appearance is set for November 19th, 2020.
If you have been charged with a felony or gross misdemeanor in Minnesota, you could be imperative to obtain knowledgeable counsel. There may be defenses for these charges. Contact the BK Law group today to schedule a consultation appointment.