Amy Senser trial opens in Minneapolis

Amy Senser
In this Sept. 16, 2011, file photo, Amy Senser leaves with her husband, former Minnesota Vikings football star Joe Senser, right, after a court appearance in Minneapolis. Amy Senser's criminal vehicular homicide trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, April 23, 2012, in Minneapolis. Prosecutors allege she hit 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong of Roseville on a freeway ramp last year as he was putting gas into his car.
AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jean Pieri, File

Attorneys delivered opening statements Monday in the Amy Senser hit-and-run trial.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson told jurors the night of Aug. 23, 2011, was going as planned by Joe and Amy Senser. The two had bought tickets to the Katy Perry concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for their daughters and two of their friends.

Earlier in the day, Amy had gone shopping at Ridgedale Center with the girls to buy outfits for the concert. Joe, the former Minnesota Viking tight end, dropped them off at the show. Amy planned to drive to the show after work, purchase a scalped ticket outside the Xcel center and watch the show. Afterward, she would drive the girls home.

According to Nelson, Senser got a headache at the show and left early. He said Senser had been treated for severe headaches in the past. Nelson said she was driving back to their home in Edina, when she changed her mind and exited I-94 using the Riverside Ave. off-ramp in order to turn around and go back to pick up the young women.

According to the complaint, at a few minutes after 11 p.m., Anousone Phanthavong, a well-regarded chef at True Thai restaurant in Minneapolis, was standing next to his stalled Honda Accord along the off ramp with a gas can. State Patrol investigators say Senser struck Phanthavong with such force that his body was thrown 40 feet. Troopers at the scene found parts matching a Mercedes Benz ML350, an SUV. Some of the parts had blood on them. Investigators estimate Senser was traveling at speeds up to 55 mph at the moment of impact.

Nelson said Senser will take the stand to tell jurors about that moment.

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"You'll hear what she saw; what she heard and what she felt," Nelson said.

Nelson said Senser couldn't see much. The off-ramp was under "heavy construction" and the overhead street lights were out. He said Senser never made it back to pick up the girls because she got lost and could not find the ramp onto I-94 East.

Nelson said Senser returned home and left the damaged SUV in the driveway "for all to see." The Sensers did not notice the damage to the Mercedes until the next day. Nelson said the family acted in a "reasonable and timely manner" by notifying authorities nearly 24 hours after the accident. The Sensers called the Minnesota State Patrol, who took the vehicle into custody.

However, Hennepin County Assistant Attorney Deborah Russell said Senser did not come forward to admit she was the driver of the vehicle until more than a week later. Russell said Senser's stepdaughter Brittani became concerned that she was becoming a suspect in the hit-and-run incident. Russell said Brittani told attorney Eric Nelson, "you tell who the driver is or I will."

Russell said the next day, Amy Senser issued a statement admitting she was driving the car on the night of the accident.

Russell told the jury that the state's case will involve testimony from crash scene investigators. The state will also question Senser's daughters and the other young women who were to be driven home by Amy Senser on the night of accident.

Senser is facing three counts of criminal vehicular homicide: for leaving the scene of a crash, for failing to notify authorities in a timely manner and for gross negligence. However, Judge Daniel Mabley told jurors that if they don't find Senser guilty of gross negligence, they can find her guilty of the lesser offense of careless driving.