SEATTLE — One protester has died and another is in serious condition after being hit by a car that plowed into a crowd on I-5 near the Olive Way overpass.
A spokesperson for Harborview Medical Center confirmed that 24-year-old Summer Taylor died from their injuries.
The other victim, 32-year-old Diaz Love remains in serious condition in the ICU.
The crash happened at about 1:40 a.m. Saturday during a protest on I-5.
Protesters have been walking on the freeway for the last three weeks protesting the death of George Floyd, who died while in Minneapolis police custody.
There are still orange markers on I-5 where the two people were struck.
Those who were at the scene said the incident happened suddenly.
A KIRO 7 viewer who was watching the protest from above sent this video to the newsroom (WARNING: the content in the video below is graphic).
“I heard someone yell, ‘A car, a car,’” said citizen journalist and musician Mark Taylor-Canfield, who was covering the protests on I-5.
Taylor-Canfield said the atmosphere was festive until just after 1:30 Saturday.
“I did see the car move through the crowd and I saw the protesters hit,” said Taylor-Canfield. “It was a terrible scene. A terrible, terrible scene.”
Eyewitnesses watched in horror as the car plowed into the crowd. Most protesters scrambled to safety, but two of them were unable to escape.
Washington State Patrol had put up barriers just before midnight to keep protesters and vehicles apart.
“He went around a series of vehicles that were blocking I-5 and went around on the shoulder where a group of pedestrians were standing,” said Washington State Patrol Capt. Ron Mead.
The trooper insisted pedestrians should not be on the freeway for their safety.
“And we’ve said that steadfast,” said Mead. “We’ve worked tirelessly to separate motorists from pedestrians fearing a tragedy like this could very well happen.”
Stunned friends identified one of the victims as Taylor, a nonbinary person from Seattle, and described them as a compassionate veterinary assistant devoted to fighting injustice. Love, of Bellingham, was the other victim.
Supporters said they worry that this incident will overshadow their message.
“I just hope that people can stay focused on the reason these protests are happening,” said Taylor-Canfield. “Because it is a moment against racism and police brutality, for justice and equality in this society.”
Mead said it is illegal for pedestrians to be on the freeway, and he hopes the incident will persuade protesters to protest someplace safer.
A friend of Taylor has started a GoFundMe account to help cover their medical expenses.
Dawit Kelete, 27, who is suspected of driving into the crowd, is in the King County Jail, ahead of his first court appearance on Monday.
Troopers said Kelete somehow managed to get past the roadblocks on I-5 and plow into protesters while headed in the wrong direction on the freeway.
Troopers described Kelete as “reserved and sullen” when they arrested him, according to court documents. They also said he asked if the injured protesters were doing OK.
Troopers said he did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.
“Very candidly, we don’t know at this point in the investigation what the motive was, what the reasoning was,” Mead said.
KIRO 7 found out that Kelete has faced charges of assault, trespassing and malicious mischief in the past. However, each charge was eventually dismissed.
This time, troopers said things could be very different. “At the very least, we’re looking at vehicular assault charges right now, felony hit and run, but those could be upgraded depending on the progress of the investigation,” Mead said.
As troopers investigate the crash, they’re also cracking down on any future protests that might happen on the freeway.
“We’re letting them know now that we’ll block their access, and if they go around and they actually do go out on the freeway, they will be arrested,” a trooper said.
Troopers said there is no proof that Kelete acted deliberately.
Kelete is expected to face several serious charges.
Watch the full press conference from Washington State Patrol below:
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