Victim's family files wrongful death suit against Sensers

The family of a man killed in a hit-and-run on Interstate 94 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser and his wife, Amy.

Anousone Phanthavong's attorney Jim Schwebel filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court. An attorney for the Senser family said Amy Senser was driving the Mercedes SUV that hit Phanthavong on Aug. 23.

Amy Senser has not been charged in the case.

Schwebel said the lawsuit will allow him to obtain information about the incident to help Phanthavong's family understand what happened. Authorities say Phanthavong, who was a chef at the True Thai restaurant nearby, was apparently filling a car with gas.

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"We'd like to know why Amy Senser was taking the Riverside exit, we'd like to know if there was alcohol involved in this, if there was anyone else in the car with her, and we'd certainly like to know why she chose to flee the scene," Schwebel said.

The Sensers handed over the vehicle to the Minnesota State Patrol shortly after the incident, but they did not reveal who was driving until Friday — after the Twin Cities media reported the vehicle involved belonged to Joe Senser.

The lawsuit seeks at least $50,000 from the Sensers.

In an interview, Schwebel said Phanthavong's family and members of the public have expressed frustration over the fact that no charges have been filed yet.

"There is a troubling message here," Schwebel said. "Some people said that there are two systems of justice. One for the rich and powerful that hire lawyers right away, and one for average people. Folks have told me that if this happened to them, their wife would have been in jail within half an hour. And yet here we are, two weeks out and no one's been charged yet."

Eric Nelson, an attorney for the Sensers, said his clients are cooperating with the investigation.

"A family of lesser moral or ethical standards would have or could have taken tremendous efforts to conceal the whereabouts of the car and other information that the State Patrol has requested," Nelson said, adding that the Sensers have provided authorities with DNA samples as well as credit card and cell phone records.

Nelson said no wrongful death lawsuit would have been possible had the Sensers decided not to come forward. He said he's been in contact with Schwebel throughout the process.

"We knew and had been anticipating this for quite sometime," Nelson said of the lawsuit.