Amy Senser breaks her silence in hit-and-run testimony - New York News

Amy Senser breaks her silence in hit-and-run testimony

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

At 11:05 a.m. Monday, Amy Senser broke her silence, uttering her first public words about the accident that killed Anousone Phanthavong eight months ago and put her on trial.

Those words were her name, stated and spelled for the court record.

Then her defense attorney, Eric Nelson asked if she was nervous.

"Terrified," Senser replied, "but I finally get to speak."

For the next hour, up until the judge called for a lunch break, she spelled out, chronologically, what happened the night of Aug. 23 and the morning of the 24th.

Senser told jurors she left work around 7 p.m. and drove to St. Paul before parking in a lot near the Xcel Energy Center, where her two teenage daughters and two friends were already inside waiting for Katy Perry to begin her concert.

Amy said she changed clothes in the car, waited about 20 minutes and then walked toward the arena, but didn't go in. Seeing a patio bar across the street, she went there instead, sat down and ordered a glass of wine -- a glass, she testified, that she didn't even finish because she was still getting over a sinus infection.

"I hadn't felt very well, and it made me feel worse, so I got up and left," Senser testified.

She said she then bought a ticket for $10 dollars from a scalper, but she didn't keep it.

"I wish I did," she said.

Senser said that from 9 p.m. until about 10:30 p.m., she sat in the show; however, she was not with her daughters, who never saw her there. While at the show, Senser said her headache intensified.

"A lot of screaming girls and a lot of lights," she said. "I wasn't feeling well and it got worse as the night went on."

Senser said that's when she decided to go home and have her husband, Joe, pick up the girls.

Senser explained she never called Joe to tell him that because, while she was on westbound Interstate 94, she had second thoughts and decided it would be silly for her to drive all the way home to Edina and then make him drive all the way back.

She was approaching the Highway 280 exit at that point, but wasn't sure how that could get her back onto I-94 east. Then came Huron Boulevard, but again, she wasn't sure if there was a ramp that could get her back toward St. Paul.

Then came Riverside.

Senser said she knew Riverside had an overpass and an eastbound on-ramp. She exited I-94, now seconds away from the accident that would take a life and forever change hers.

Anousone Phanthavong stood 247 feet up the ramp, filling his stalled Honda sedan with gas. He wore a white shirt and would have been directly in front of Senser's passenger side headlight. His hazard lights would be visible for up to a mile, according to the defense's own crash expert; although in this case, only for the four seconds it took to travel that far up the ramp.

Amy told the jury she not only never saw him, but also never saw his car and doesn't remember the flashing hazards -- not even in the rearview mirror. She was looking the other way at the time of the crash, trying to scope out her way back to her daughters.

"When I got off on the exit, I was trying to look at the bridge," she testified, explaining that she wanted to make sure there was, in fact, an overpass and on-ramp that would go the other way.

Senser said she was also checking out all the construction, which is why the overpass was closed and why the streetlights were out.

Senser admitted that she felt a jolt and said she was not looking ahead of her at the time. She later called it a thud, and compared the impact to hitting a pothole. Senser said that by the time she looked behind her, she didn't see anything.

"I'm not sure what had happened, assuming I had hit something," Senser said. "I had never been in an accident, so I wasn't sure if I had hit a pothole or one of the construction signs."

She said she could see nothing in her rearview mirror that helped explain it the bump. She said had no idea she had just struck Phanthavong or had any reason to suspect anything that horrible.

When directly asked if she was either on the phone or impaired by alcohol at the time of the collision, she simply said no. Her 11:08 p.m. phone call to her daughter, Hannah, came after she turned off the ramp, she testified -- but with the noise of the concert, she couldn't actually talk with her.

With the Riverside overpass being closed, she had to turn right and said she became hopelessly lost for about a half an hour due to all the construction in that area. Eventually, she came to Snelling, which she recognized as a way back to I-94 -- but by now, Joe had called to say he had already picked up the girls. He told her to go home.

As she drove westbound again on I-94, a witness named Molly Kelley drove behind her, and told the State Patrol the next day about a Mercedes SUV driving erratically, slowing to 40 mph at times, weaving back and forth across the lines. She told the jury the same story last week.

What Kelley saw was not impairment, Senser testified. 

"I had dropped my phone and was trying to get that," Senser explained.

Senser said the device was down between the seats, was ringing again and she was trying to dig it out by moving her driver's seat forward and back.

The next morning, she remembered she had hit something, glanced out and saw there was damage. She said she "knew Joe was going to be mad."

A short time later, as she sat on the back deck reading the paper, Joe called her up front. He was looking at the car and wanted to know what she had really hit.

She had not noticed the blood, she told the courtroom -- or at least, did not recognize it as blood.

"What I recall seeing is something that looked like mud," she said, which is the same thing Joe told jurors last week.

In the photographs shown in court, the blood spots were faint. Investigators had to use a pointer to show jurors where to look.

Minutes later, Joe called her again. He was sitting at the computer looking at a news story about the fatal hit-and-run on the Riverside ramp.

"He said ‘Where were you when you hit the construction sign?' I said, 'That's the exit I was on.'"

Senser said she then insisted it was pure coincidence.

"That is the accident I saw on my way home," she recalls telling her husband, "that must be what I saw."

Senser said she still did not believe that crash had anything to do with her.

When Senser resumed her testimony after lunch, she again said the thud she felt while driving was like hitting a pothole and did not see Phanthavong or his vehicle afterward. She told jurors that is why she was certain she was not involved in that crash. 

"It's still difficult to believe it is my vehicle," she said as she began to break down again, "because I just never saw him, and it couldn't have been me."

When prosecutors began to question her, they immediately began to challenge each part of her testimony -- beginning with whether or not she told the truth about attending the Katy Perry concert since she cannot produce a ticket stub. Senser said she left that stub in the jeans she wore that night, which she claims she took to Goodwill a few days after the concert.

Prosecutor Deborah Russell was also highly skeptical that someone who hit a person with enough force to kill and cause major damage to a car could possibly think the crash had not been significant.

When asked whether she heard the metal of the car bending, the headlight breaking or noticed that the lamp had gone out, Senser said "no." She also said she didn't think that she should stop to check whether her car was OK after hitting a construction cone.

Jurors are expected to start deliberating tomorrow.

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