MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Amy Senser’s hit-and-run trial continued on Tuesday with fireworks from her own stepdaughter, Brittani, along with chilling testimony from witnesses who saw Anousone Phantahvong’s lifeless body on the Interstate 94 Riverside exit in Minneapolis.
Brittani Senser testified for about 45 minutes inside the Hennepin County Courthouse Tuesday. The 28- year-old daughter of Amy Senser’s husband, Joe, testified about a text she received from her father two days after the crash.
“Brit, things aren’t always what they seem,” Brittani told jurors the text read. She didn’t understand what her father meant, until she heard more about the crash that Thursday night. “I cried,” she recalled. “I asked her (Amy) how she was doing. I told her I loved her. I said if you need anything, let me know.”
A week later, Brittani testified she started getting suspicious after she asked her father if they took Amy into custody.
“I was upset, because I was under the impression that the State Patrol knew Amy was the driver,” she told jurors, adding that news reports she came across were talking of speculation that somebody else might have been driving the Senser’s Mercedes SUV.
“I was furious,” recalled Brittani. “I said they’re speculating that it’s me. I was angry. I said a lot of things,” she told jurors regarding her conversation with her father.
And then she talked about the text she sent Amy soon after. She testified “I texted Amy, and said it wasn’t fair, and she needed to admit she was driving.”
She recalled calling Eric Nelson, Senser’s attorney, and giving him an ultimatum.
“I said if you and Amy and my Dad don’t say who was driving, I will,” she recalled, adding that a statement came out soon after that conversation with the defense attorney, explaining that Amy, was in fact, driving.
It was the most gripping of testimony inside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. The most gripping images from inside the courtroom on the 17th floor was when Amy Senser started crying while pictures of Phantahvong were shown to jurors. Those images were followed by testimony from people who saw the crash scene after Phantahvong was killed.
State Patrol Troopers who responded that night recalled an exit ramp that was a construction zone, with cones and signs.
“It was very dark in that area,” Trooper Jeremy Solie testified. “I will say they (overhead lights) were not on.” Trooper Solie was one of about 10 troopers, he recalled, who responded to the crash scene. Trooper Allen Thill recalled finding a headlight part, and after researching what kind of car it came from, realized it belonged to a Mercedes SUV. Other Troopers were notified soon later to look for an SUV with heavy front-end damage.
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputy Sara Peck described several pictures she took of the scene. They included a blue antifreeze bottle and a black car part with a number and a Mercedes emblem on it. That one car part was the largest piece that the Deputy came across, about 1 foot by six inches in size.
In fact, there were multiple car parts scattered across the road. Right alongside those broken pieces, Phantahvong’s body lay in the road. His white shoes were next to him, along with a cell phone. The hazard lights on his vehicle were still flashing when other drivers came upon the crash.
Maria Moralez, a 911 caller from the scene, was emotional on the stand when recalling what she saw.
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead,” she recalled telling the 911 operator after seeing Phantahvong’s body. “I don’t know if it’s safe.”
Moralez was second on the scene of the deadly hit-and-run behind nurse Brian Guiterman. He recalled the 911 conversation too, after coming up on scene. He saw flashing lights, debris scattered in the road, along with the body.
“You alright buddy,” he said as he remembered slowly approaching Phantahvong’s body. “I can’t tell if he’s alive,” he told the 911 dispatcher just after 11 p.m. that August night.
The prosecution also called Dr. Sarah Meyers to the stand. She’s the forensic pathologist who did the autopsy on Phantahvong’s body. She talked about pictures that the jury saw of his body. There were abrasions on the right side of his face. There was a gaping laceration on his right arm. There was a picture of his right leg with a laceration.
Dr. Meyers told jurors that she concluded Phantahvong died of multiple blunt force injuries, and on the right side of his body which, she said, would be consistent with a vehicle mirror hit. She testified that he could have died in a matter of seconds or as long as a minute or two.
When asked during cross-examination whether he died of those injuries or if he died after falling on the ground, Dr. Meyers said she couldn’t tell.
Amy Senser could be seen wiping her nose and eyes several times while pictures of Phantahvong’s body were shown. And his family could be heard crying throughout the graphic pictures. One of them even had to leave the courtroom while the pictures were shown.
The defense wants a key piece of evidence actually brought up to jurors and pushed the judge in this case again Tuesday on the issue. It centers on the testimony of Dr. Meyers, who said that she’s concluded that Phantahvong had .6 milligrams of cocaine in his body when he was hit, a “relatively high concentration” in his system, she said.
She concluded “the individual (Phantahvong) had used cocaine relatively recently.” Jurors did not hear that testimony today. The judge denied the request to present the evidence to the jury.
“We’d be inviting speculation of the effect on Anousone Phantahvong,” the judge said. “There needs to be some behavior to get the issue before the jury.”
Later in the day, Molly Kelley told jurors that she believed she was driving behind Amy Senser the night of the crash.
“I was contemplating calling police,” she told jurors after telling them that she saw the Mercedes SUV swerving and changing lanes after also dropping its speed on Interstate 94 to about 40 to 45 miles per hour at one point.
“I thought that the driver was intoxicated,” Kelley said. She said that she was nervous she was going to get in an accident that night.
She called the Minnesota State Patrol the next day to report the driver she was behind after learning about the deadly hit-and-run. She recalled a front headlight being out.
“I pulled into the left lane to get away from the car to get away from the vehicle,” she said.
During cross examination, she admitted that she didn’t get a good look at the driver and couldn’t look into the vehicle to see what the driver was doing at the time.
“You can’t sit here today and say what the license plate was,” asked Senser’s attorney. “Not specifically,” Kelley answered.
Testimony resumes at about 9 a.m. Wednesday.