Former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser testified Wednesday in the hit-and-run trial of his wife, Amy Senser, saying she told him she thought she had hit a construction cone.
Amy Senser waived her right to spousal privilege so that her husband could testify. She faces three felony charges stemming from the hit-and-run on Aug. 23, 2011, that killed Minneapolis chef Anousone Phanthavong, 38. Amy Senser has admitted to driving the vehicle that hit Phanthavong, but her lawyer said Amy Senser did not know she hit a person.
Joe Senser testified that on the night of the accident he dropped off his two daughters and their friends at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for a Katy Perry concert. He then drove back to their Edina home, and went to bed before the 10 p.m. news.
Joe Senser testified that about 11:30 p.m., he received a call from his daughter, Hannah, and drove to the Xcel Center to pick up the girls from the concert. On the way, he called his wife to say that he was picking up the girls and bringing them home. Amy Senser thanked him, telling him she was lost.
When he got home, the Mercedes Benz SUV was in the driveway. Joe Senser testified that he was mad at his wife for getting lost and causing him to have to get up to get the girls.
Joe Senser testified that the next morning Amy Senser said to him, "I think you might be mad at me. I think I hit a construction cone." Joe Senser said he went outside to look at the car from several feet away, and saw a dent in the right-front quarter-panel. Joe Senser said he told Amy Senser to call the insurance company.
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Joe Senser then took a closer look at the car from the front right side. He said he thought it looked like she hit a deer. Joe Senser then apologized to the victim's family in the courtroom.
Joe Senser testified that the two looked on the WCCO-TV website, and saw a story on the death of the victim. Joe Senser said Amy Senser admitted she had been on that exit ramp the night before, and he asked her, "Are you sure you hit a construction barrel?"
Joe Senser said Amy Senser told him she was sure, saying, "There's no way that was me."
An investigator with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who examined cell phones belonging to Amy and Joe Senser testified that 45 text messages from Amy Senser's Blackberry were deleted the day after the crash.
Amy Senser's stepdaughter Brittani Senser testified Wednesday that she knew a relative of the victim Phanthavong.
Brittani Senser, 28, said she knew Phanthavong's brother. She also said she received calls from mutual friends asking her if she was the driver of the car involved in the crash.
In the third day of the trial, during adversarial questioning from her stepmother's defense attorney Eric Nelson, Brittani Senser admitted that she knew she was not in legal jeopardy. She had given statements to law enforcement officials of her whereabouts on the night of the hit and run incident.
Brittani Senser had been reassured by her father, Joe Senser, that she was going to be OK. But she said she was worried that he wasn't doing enough to protect her reputation. She also said that's why she demanded that he come forward and clear her name.
Brittani Senser told the court on Tuesday that when she started to hear speculation in the news media that she had been the driver of the Mercedez SUV that struck and killed Phanthavong, she called the family attorney and told him, "If you and Amy and my father don't say who was the driver, I will."
JURORS SHOWN PICTURES
Jurors also got a look at pictures of the Mercedes Benz SUV involved in the crash. Photos from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office showed damage to the passenger side front quarter panel and headlight assembly. Part of the hood was folded back and small splatters of what investigators later determined to be Phanthavong's blood were visible in several sections of the car. Investigators also found what they called "bodily tissue" attached to part of the folded section of the front hood.
Amy Senser's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, asked the sheriff's deputy who testified if she was able to see the damage from the driver's seat inside the vehicle. She said she didn't try. Nelson said Amy Senser didn't know she struck Phanthavong, and he says she didn't notice any damage until the next morning.
According to the complaint, at a few minutes after 11 p.m., Phanthavong, a chef at True Thai restaurant in Minneapolis, was standing with a gas can next to his stalled Honda Accord along the I-94 off-ramp onto Riverside Ave. State Patrol investigators say Senser struck Phanthavong with such force that his body was thrown 40 feet. Troopers at the scene found auto body parts matching a Mercedes-Benz GLK300, 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.
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.