MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Authorities say a vehicle believed to be involved in a deadly hit-and-run last week belongs to former Vikings player Joe Senser, but they did not say who they think may have been behind the wheel.
According to a search warrant, the gold 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML350 that was located and connected with the death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong is registered to Senser, of Edina.
Phanthavong was killed on the Cedar-Riverside exit of westbound Interstate 94 on Aug. 23. He was filling his car with gas on the off-ramp when he was hit by the SUV. Phanthavong died from his injuries. He had severe trauma to multiple areas of his body, consistent with being struck by an automobile, according to a search warrant filed in Hennepin County.
That warrant also said that investigators found pieces of the vehicle at the scene of the crime and were able to determine the make of the vehicle.
Attorney Eric Nelson, with Halberg Criminal Defense, said the Senser family contacted him the morning after the crash and by 10 p.m. that night they contacted the State Patrol. He said within 20 minutes, a trooper arrived to the Senser home to inspect the vehicle, which was handed over voluntarily.
“It’s a tragic situation. The whole family is upset,” Nelson said. “The Senser’s recognize the tragedy, and they are coping with the tragedy, and they are attempting to be as cooperative as they can throughout this whole process.”
Nelson gave the keys to officers and directed them to the Mercedes-Benz. A trooper saw front-end damage on the passenger side, including on the fender, and what looked like blood on the hood.
It was taken to the Hennepin County Crime Lab and a search turned up a bobby pin, a set of earrings, a bottle as well as a Mike’s bottle cap inside the vehicle.
Nelson confirmed the vehicle is owned by Senser, but did not say who may have been driving.
“The United State Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution provide every person with the right against self-incrimination, and the Senser’s decision not to communicate who was driving is based on our advice at this point,” Nelson said.
He said Senser and his family are deeply saddened by this incident and may release a statement Friday.
“Why leave the scene of an accident? I suppose a person has to know they’re involved in an accident,” said Nelson. ”Someone who was driving would have to know they are involved in an accident. If you don’t know you are involved in an accident, who’s to say you were involved in an accident.”
Nelson added the area is a construction site, and the person driving could have thought “was it a deer, was it a construction cone, was it a car, was it something else.”
Minnesota State Patrol Spokesperson Lt. Eric Roeske, gave his own thoughts on the crash the next day.
“To just him them and drive away and not realize they did it, it just isn’t conceivable,” he said.
No arrests have been made.
Phantavong was a head chef at True Thai Restaurant in Minneapolis, where he had worked for eight years.
Senser was a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings in the early 1980s and currently owns several Joe Senser’s Restaurant and Sports Theaters around the Twin Cities.
Senser also provides commentary for WCCO Radio on University of St. Thomas football.