Amy Senser says she had no idea she hit victim

Amy Senser and attorney Eric Nelson
Amy Senser and her attorney, Eric Nelson, photographed inside the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday, April 30, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Amy Senser, who is charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide, testified Monday that she had no idea she struck and killed 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong.

At times, Senser, the wife of former Viking Joe Senser, became overcome with emotion as she described what happened before and after last August's fatal collision.

Testimony in the hit-and-run trial of Senser is expected to wrap up Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.

On Monday, Senser testified that on the evening of the Aug. 23, 2011, she arrived at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to meet her daughters and their friends at the Katy Perry concert. Before going into the concert, Senser said at about 8:30 p.m. she stopped a nearby restaurant patio for a glass of wine, which she says she did not finish. She said she had been taking antibiotics for an ear and sinus infection and the alcohol only made her feel worse.

Senser said she then walked over to the Xcel center for the concert there. But Senser testified that the loud music and sound of thousands of girls screaming started to trigger a bad headache. Senser said she had been treated for severe headaches all her life, and she could sense one was coming on. Senser said a woman next to her told her the show would probably last until midnight.

"I knew I had to leave," said Senser.

Senser said she left the concert at about 10:45 p.m. and got into her Mercedes-Benz SUV in order to drive home, wake up her husband, former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser, and have him pick up the girls.

Anousone Phanthavong
This 2011 photo provided by True Thai Restaurant shows Anousone Phanthavong, who was killed on a freeway exit ramp in August 2011. Opening statements began Monday, April 23, 2012, in the trial of Amy Senser who faces three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide in Phanthavong's death. A prosecutor says Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, came forward in the fatal hit-and-run only after her stepdaughter threatened to go to police.
AP Photo/True Thai Restaurant via St. Paul Pioneer Press

But Senser said after she got out of the concert she started to feel better. By the time she got to the intersection of I-94 and 280, she decided she would turn around and go back and pick up the girls. Driving west on I-94 to her Edina home, Senser said she exited at Riverside Avenue to turn around.

Senser testified that she was looking to her left as she took the Riverside Avenue exit to ensure there was a way to get back onto I-94. Senser said she was probably traveling between 50 and 55 mph, when she said she felt a jolt. Senser said she thought she hit either a pothole or a construction barrel.

But she struck Phanthavong, who was preparing to put gas in his stalled car on the right side of the ramp. The force from the impact propelled him 40 to 50 feet.

On the witness stand, Senser burst into tears and said she never saw her victim. The emergency flashers on Phanthavong's car were working at the time.

A driver safety expert testified earlier Monday that it would have been difficult for Senser to see the man she is accused of killing that night.

Dr. Paul Olson, an expert witness for the defense, offered an opinion based on his research on how drivers' perceptions are affected by darkness. He said given the speed at which Senser was traveling and the presence of construction signs near the side of the road, it would have been difficult for her to see and avoid Phanthavong.

Also testifying for the defense was crash reconstruction expert, Daniel Lofgren, a former Minnesota state trooper who owns a consulting business.

Lofgren said from his examination of autopsy photos of Phanthavong and pictures of the damaged SUV, he concluded that Phanthavong was bending over at the time of impact, making it difficult for Senser to see her victim.

Lofgren also testified that based on his analysis, the collision happened before Senser placed a call from her mobile phone to one of her daughters. The state alleges that Senser was on her phone at the time of impact. The collision with Phathanvong occurred just after 11 p.m.

The day of testimony ended before assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell could cross-examine Lofgren.

Closing arguments from each side will begin after testimony concludes. The jury will be sequestered overnight if they do not reach a verdict by the end of the day.

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