Updated: 5:01 p.m. | Posted: 12:12 p.m.
A Champlin man has been charged with five counts of criminal vehicular operation for slamming his van into a crowded bus stop shelter in north Minneapolis in July.
George Reeves Jensen, 83, injured five people at the stop, two of them seriously, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Friday. While the injuries are serious, Freeman said his office “did not have the facts to charge something other than criminal vehicular operation.”
Despite calls from local activists for harsher charges, Freeman said there was not enough evidence to warrant attempted murder or assault. Given Jensen’s age and his lack of a prior criminal record, he likely will not face jail time, Freeman added.
“This is a strange case, and this is a place where Minnesota statutes seem lacking,” he told reporters Friday afternoon after the charges were filed.
In a statement accompanying the charges, the prosecutor’s office said witnesses saw Jensen pull his van in front of the bus stop and talk to three women and that it “appeared Jensen was trying to pay one of the women but none of them were interested.”
One of the women told police that Jensen had been “coming around for three years and would give the women $10 if they would give him their phone number,” according to the statement.
Surveillance video showed Jensen driving oddly around the area, sideswiping a Metro Transit bus and then backing up and hitting the bus again without stopping to check the damage, according to the complaint.
“Video shows Jensen tapping his brakes four times for no apparent reason as he veered between the two lanes,” the prosecutor’s office said. He then veered onto the curb, accelerating slowly, striking a bench, a news stand and a bike rack before ramming into the bus shelter, causing its collapse, according to the complaint.
Jensen told authorities later he hit the gas accidentally instead of the brake, but could not explain why he needed to hit the brake or why he was on the sidewalk, Freeman’s office said, adding that Jensen acknowledged he has been to that area several times before and “talks to one woman in particular, sometimes giving her money just to help her out.”
Freeman said later: “I don't know what he was engaged in … and it’s not my business to speculate. And, frankly, it’s irrelevant to what happened in this case.”
Among the victims, one suffered multiple pelvic, rib and vertebra fractures and significant blood loss. Another suffered rib and leg fractures and a lacerated spleen. A third suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractured ribs. Two victims are still receiving hospital care.
Metro Transit police said at the time said six men were hurt, but Freeman said Friday it was five.
Jensen is scheduled to make his first court appearance Sept. 23.
Local activist Spike Moss, who was at the press conference, demanded to know why Jensen had not been charged with attempted murder.
"In order to charge someone with attempted murder, we have to prove that the person intended to murder that individual but failed,” Freeman said. Jensen passed a field sobriety test and was not speeding at the time he hit the bus shelter.
Overall, the prosecutor said his office dug into the evidence but was unable to come up with any facts to support a charge beyond criminal vehicular operation.
“We spent a lot of time trying to find out more,” he said, “and we don't have it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.