Semi driver who drove onto I-35W bridge during protest charged

The driver of a semi-tanker truck that drove onto the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis during a protest over the death of George Floyd has been charged with two crimes after prosecutors say he wanted to scare people out of his path.

Bogdan Vechirko, 35, of Otsego was charged Thursday with a felony count of threats of violence and a gross misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation. 

On May 31, more than 1,000 protesters were on the I-35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis when a petroleum tanker truck driven by Vechirko approached the bridge and headed towards the crowd. The charges say Vechirko did not stop until a person in the crowd stumbled and fell. 

According to the charges, investigators reviewed traffic cameras and a number of cell phone videos, all of which showed protesters screaming and running in a panic from the truck. The videos also showed multiple vehicles stopped in the northbound lanes and drivers heading the wrong direction on entrance ramps.

Investigators used a similar semi-truck to reconstruct Verchirko’s drive. The re-enactment showed that Verchirko’s line of sight would have provided him sufficient time to see the crowd and stop his truck, the charges say. 

Investigators also spoke to numerous people who said that they thought they were going to be struck or killed by the truck. The videos show people rushing to get out of the truck’s path with some even jumping off the bridge to the grassy area below. At least one person suffered scrapes and abrasions to her leg as she tried to get out of the truck’s path.

Vechirko told investigators he was kind of in a hurry, according to the charges. He said when he saw the crowd, he hoped that if he went slow the crowd would let him pass. He admitted he could have stopped the truck sooner. 

"The thorough investigation showed that [Vechirko] wanted to scare the crowd out of his path," the charges state. 

Verchirko was arrested after the initial incident, but later released after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman deferred charges pending further investigation. He is not currently in custody. 

He will make his first court appearance on the charges on Nov. 10.