Thu, 06 Aug 2020

"There's absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever," Browne told The Associated Press news agency. "My client is in tears. He's very remorseful. He feels tremendous guilt."

Kelete is originally from Eritrea, in northeastern Africa, and is a United States citizen, Browne said. He lives with his parents in Seattle, and they are very religious, he said.

A message seeking comment from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County said they have no comment on the charges.

Kelete was the owner of the Jaguar XJL and was alone in the car, according to the state patrol.

A security camera on the REI building captured Kelete's car driving the wrong way up the Stewart Street I-5 exit ramp, past numerous warning signs that said "Wrong Way", according to the charging document. Since it was an exit ramp, "a driver must make a deliberate and sharp right U-turn in order to drive southbound on I-5", the document said.

Kelete was travelling at highway speeds when he first noticed the demonstrators, the document said.

Protests closed road

The protesters screamed and scattered as the car approached. A graphic video shows the vehicle approaching at high speed. The car appeared to swerve slightly as it came towards two people still in the road and slid sideways as it hit the two protesters, throwing them into the air. The driver slowed and turned on his hazard lights just after impact.

"The defendant stopped several hundred yards from the scene," prosecutors said. "He was approached by witnesses who yelled at him to exit the vehicle. After the witness[es] began hitting and pushing his vehicle, the defendant drove away at a high speed," prosecutors said.

Kelete was followed by one of the protesters, who was able to stop his car by driving in front of him until state troopers arrived. Kelete agreed to take a field sobriety test for drugs and alcohol. The tests showed he was not impaired, the state patrol said.

"The driver was reserved and appeared sullen throughout his time in custody," Trooper James McGuire wrote in the arrest report. "At one point he asked if the injured pedestrians were OK."

Seattle has been the site of prolonged unrest following the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests.

The state patrol closed a section of I-5 for 19 days in a row because of the protesters, troopers said. Going forward, officials said they would not allow protesters to enter I-5 and would arrest any pedestrians found on the highway.

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