ST. PAUL, Minn. — A white Minnesota driver claiming he feared for his life has been charged with murder in the death of an unarmed black motorist following a car crash in St. Paul Friday night.
Anthony James Trifiletti, 24, of Watertown, is accused of fatally shooting Douglas Cornelius Lewis, 39, of St. Paul. According to jail records, Trifiletti was booked into the Ramsey County Jail early Saturday morning.
St. Paul police officials said the men got into a crash around 9:25 p.m. Friday on Burns Avenue near the intersection with U.S. 61.
“Both drivers got out of their vehicles and argued. At some point, one of the drivers shot the other, leaving him lying in the road as bystanders rendered aid,” a news release from the department said. “St. Paul fire medics transported the victim to Regions Hospital, where he died a short time later.”
Trifiletti fled the scene and called his father, KSTP in Minneapolis reported. According to Fox 9 in St. Paul, court documents show Trifiletti told police he left in case he “hadn’t extinguished the threat.”
His father told him to return to the scene, where he was taken into custody for questioning.
According to a criminal complaint obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Trifiletti’s handgun, for which he had a carry permit, was found in his glove box.
No weapon was found on Lewis.
The Star Tribune reported that officers responding to the emergency call found Lewis lying on the street with several bystanders hunched over him, providing first aid. Their efforts were in vain, as Lewis died during surgery at the hospital.
One of those who helped Lewis at the scene, Kimberly Lawler, is a U.S. Army reservist. Standing near the scene of Lewis’ death Sunday afternoon, she stared at the stained pavement where he lay bleeding two nights earlier.
“I’ve been to Iraq and I’ve seen bodies,” Lawler told the newspaper. “But this. I had to come home to see this.”
Trifiletti told police he had exited from U.S. 61 onto Burns Avenue, at which point a silver Ford bumped his pickup truck from behind. Both he and Lewis pulled over onto the side of the road.
According to the criminal complaint, Trifiletti said he took photos of the damage and asked for Lewis’ insurance information, at which point he said the talk turned to shouting.
Both Trifiletti and a friend who was in another vehicle told investigators they heard Lewis say, “I’m GD,” which the complaint described as an apparent reference to his participation in a gang, the document said. All three drivers got back into their vehicles and pulled away.
Trifiletti told detectives he “unintentionally” followed Lewis in traffic, causing Lewis to park his car and get out, the Star Tribune reported.
Lewis approached Trifiletti, who said the black man reached under his shirt. Trifiletti said he feared Lewis was armed.
Trifiletti said he drew his own handgun and fired four shots at Lewis from about 10 feet away, the complaint said.
He told police he “thought he was going to die and was afraid for his life,” according to the document.
Fox 9 reported that the medical examiner determined that all four shots struck Lewis.
Despite Trifiletti’s claim of hearing Lewis reference a street gang, a couple who witnessed the shooting told authorities they never heard him say anything about “GD” and that he did not appear to be armed when he was shot.
According to the Star Tribune, detectives asked Trifiletti why he didn’t simply drive away or refuse to exit his truck. Trifiletti said he “didn’t think that was an option” because a car was blocking him from backing out.
He also said Lewis was too close for him to escape a confrontation, the complaint said.
Family and friends of the victim dispute Trifiletti’s characterization of Lewis, a father of four who had left a barbecue to pick up his car. He was expected back at the gathering a short time later.
Instead, a friend received a FaceTime call from Lewis, who asked for help following the crash off Burns Avenue.
By the time the friend arrived at the scene, it was cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape, the Star Tribune reported.
Following Lewis’ killing, Lawler used scrap materials from her garage to fashion a cross in his memory. His family and friends stood near the cross Sunday, placing flowers and other mementos around it.
“I have no idea what led up to this,” Lewis’ sister, Valerie Lewis, told the newspaper. “He always had a big ‘ol smile. He made me feel so safe and protected.”
Family members said Lewis sometimes acted tough but was really a “big teddy bear.”
His longtime girlfriend, Christine Hicks, wept as she spoke of him.
“I wish I could’ve said goodbye,” Hicks told the Star Tribune.
Cox Media Group