By BILL HUTCHISON, ABC NEWS
(SEATTLE) — The suspect in a hit-and-run on a closed Seattle freeway that left a Black Lives Matter protester dead and another seriously injured was arraigned on Wednesday as demonstrators stood outside the courthouse chanting the victims’ names.
Dawit Kelete, 27, pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault, and reckless driving in the July 4 incident that killed Summer Taylor, 24, and injured Diaz Love, 32, who were part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration that prompted the police to shut down a section of Interstate 5 in Seattle.
During the brief hearing Wednesday, protesters stood outside the King County Courthouse in Seattle and chanted the names of Taylor and Love, who remains in a hospital.
Prior to the hearing, Love received cheers from supporters while appearing on a livestream broadcast from a hospital bed.
“As soon as I get out of here and get in a … wheelchair, I’m going to be on the marches with you,” Love told the crowd.
Love, of Portland, Oregon, suffered a traumatic brain injury, a shattered pelvis and tailbone, a broken arm, and three fractures to a leg. Love said the recovery from the injuries is expected to be a long one.
Love said Kelete, who was driving a Jaguar, did not have insurance.
“I think my monthly bills are going to be about $10,000 a month with, like, rent and having to get full-time caregivers and equipment. So the money I have, so far, is going to go quick,” Love said. “I don’t know when I’m going to get back to work and this is going to be a really long process.”
Surveillance video captured Kelete’s 2013 white Jaguar driving down the freeway, swerving around cars that were blocking the lanes to support the protest, and striking Taylor and Love, who were walking on the shoulder. The blow knocked them both into the air, over the roof of the vehicle, and onto the pavement.
According to charging documents filed in the case, Kelete allegedly did not slow down as he drove on the shoulder.
The incident unfolded at about 1:40 a.m. when Kelete allegedly entered the closed freeway by going the wrong way on an exit ramp, and drove at high speed toward a crowd of people protesting the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, authorities said.
State police said that following the collision, the Jaguar continued to head south on the freeway and that protesters in a vehicle chased it for about a mile before maneuvering in front of the Jaguar and forcing it to stop, according to the complaint.
Kelete remains in custody at the King County Correctional Facility on $1.2 million bail.
Investigators have not commented on a motive for the incident, but Kelete’s attorney, Francisco A. Duarte, said it was not an intentional act.
“This tragic event was not a political act or statement,” Duarte said. “On behalf of Kelete and his family, we ask each of you to leave room for the fact that we witnessed a tragic accident and not a crime. We are at the beginning of our investigation and will produce a truthful and trustworthy defense.”
Kelete’s family released a statement expressing support for Taylor and Love.
“No words can express or make up for the suffering that Diaz Love, Summer Taylor’s family, and their loved ones and friends are enduring at this moment,” the family’s statement reads. “We recognize the pain is profound, raw and unbearable. It is always gut wrenching to lose one’s child at a young age, but it is more hurtful under these circumstances.”
Kelete was given field sobriety tests and volunteered to take a Breathalyzer test, which determined he was not impaired at the time of the deadly episode, according to the complaint.
He denied taking medication, according to the charging documents. Later, Kelete allegedly told jail personnel that he struggles with an untreated Percocet addiction, the documents said.
The results of a blood test administered several hours after the crash have not been made public. A substance that “appears similar to crystal methamphetamine” recovered from Kelete’s car is also pending testing, according to the charging documents.
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