MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Today we’ve learned much more about the driver who was going the wrong way down a Twin Cities highway last night when he killed the driver of another car. The wrong-way driver was a pastor of a church. The victim was a 911 dispatcher.
The State Patrol says 30-year-old Jenna Bixby was driving to work at the Minneapolis 911 Center around 8 last night when the crash happened. Investigators say a driver was going north in the southbound lane of 252 in Brooklyn Center.
They say that driver is Richard Shaka, the pastor of a Northeast Minneapolis church — and they believe he had been drinking and driving. He is now in critical condition at North Memorial.
State Patrol officers say when they got on a scene, they smelled alcohol coming from Richard Shaka’s body and they plan to seek a charge of criminal vehicular homicide.
Since Jenna Bixby was a little girl, she’s had a lifelong passion for emergency responders. She got her degree in law enforcement then got a job as a 911 dispatcher with the city of Minneapolis.
“She loved helping other people, that’s why she was working in 911 dispatch,” her husband Dan told WCCO.
From his home, Jenna’s traumatized husband explained what happened Saturday night.
“She was on her way to work to help other people, to answer these types of calls for car accidents and anything else that — other emergencies that people need help with,” he said.
And suddenly an emergency call came in on her behalf. It was too late, Jenna Bixby was gone. The Bixbys have police scanners in their home so Daniel had heard the call himself.
“When the two state troopers showed up at my door, I knew, they didn’t have to tell me,” he said.
It was a fatal accident. A driver was driving the wrong way and hit Jenna head on.
Turns out that 72-year-old driver was well-known in the local faith community. His name is Richard Shaka. Pastor Baba Letang now leads the church he retired from, All Nations Christian Assembly.
“He was the one who started this church, brought so many people together over the years,” he said. “He’s touched a lot of lives including my own life.”
Richard Shaka’s successor told us he started the northeast Minneapolis church 19 years ago with his wife Farella. She died of cancer in 2016. The pair were both professors at North Central University and had ministries around the world.
Pastor Baba didn’t know the details of the crash until we told him. His face froze when heard a young woman lost her life.
“This is sad,” he said in disbelief.
Pastor Baba says he never knew of his friend drinking alcohol.
“I would be shocked to be very honest with you,” he said. “I can’t believe it, I mean you mentioning it I can’t believe that alcohol would be an issue here.”
Troopers say they smelled alcohol on Shaka but couldn’t do a breath test because of his injuries.
“Our prayers are with both Pastor Shaka but especially with the family that is grieving right now,” Pastor Baba said.
The following statement on Jenna Bixby is from 911 Director Heather Hunt:
“Our staff at Minneapolis Emergency Communications is shocked and saddened to lose our teammate Jenna Bixby. She was dedicated to helping others and was taken from us on her way to do just that. Jenna worked at 911 for the past three years as a dispatcher, a communications training officer who coached and developed new employees, and a member of our Community Outreach and Education Team, volunteering at community events including fundraisers for Special Olympics. Jenna embodies the caring, dedication and compassion that are the hallmarks of exceptional public service. She will be greatly missed.”