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Tanker truck barrels toward protesters marching on I-35W in Minneapolis

Now under curfew, the Twin Cities could be the site of more arson, officials said.

The peaceful march of thousands of protesters Sunday turned into a scene of panic, as a tanker truck barreled toward the crowd on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis just before 6 p.m.

State officials say the trucker may not have realized the highways had been closed. No injuries among demonstrators have been confirmed, they said.

Hundreds of marchers in downtown Minneapolis ignored the 8 p.m. curfew and were met with police lines and tear gas on S. Washington Avenue, where mass arrests were taking place.

Earlier, officials gave an ominous warning about continued arson attacks, after several caches of flammable materials were found both in neighborhoods where there have already been fires and “in cars we’ve stopped as recently as this morning,” said John Harrington, state public safety commissioner. Some of the caches look like they may have been planted days ago and some only in the last 24 hours or so, he said.

Police are also finding stolen vehicles with plates removed that are being used to transport the flammable materials. Looted goods and weapons also have been found in the stolen cars, he said.

“The fact that we’ve seen so many of them in so many places now makes us believe that this is part of that pattern that shows that this in fact an organized activity and not some random act of rage,” he said.

One person pulled over in Bloomington while driving a plate-less car attempted to “douse the car itself and set it on fire,” which is “not something you see on most traffic stops,” Harrington said.

He said it is critical that people stay home.

Shortly after 8 p.m., protesters on the Washington Avenue bridge over I-35W — some sitting on the ground with their bikes — were at a standstill as they encountered police lining both sides of the highway. The officers had moved up on the entrance ramps and were blocking people from moving back to the road. Police did not advance on the marchers, but shot tear gas canisters as a warning.

About 8:40 p.m., police began closing in at a group of about 200 protesters clustered at Bobby & Steve’s Auto World and set off several concussive devices. Ten minutes later, police announced over a loudspeaker that all protesters in the parking lot at Bobby & Steve’s were under arrest and asked them to lie down.

Earlier, witnesses on the 35W bridge over the Mississippi River said dozens of marchers were sitting or had taken a knee for a moment of silence when the truck came hurtling toward them and stopped halfway across the bridge. Then demonstrators swarmed the cab and appeared to drag the driver out of the truck.

Minneapolis police closed in and took the driver, who was injured, into custody. The state said it had no confirmation of any protesters being injured, but some may have sought medical attention themselves.

Harrington said between 5,000 and 6,000 people were on the bridge at the time. The State Patrol and the BCA are investigating the incident as a criminal matter.

As far as officials can tell from MnDOT cameras at the time, Harrington said the truck “was on the freeway already as we were closing the freeway.” Twin Cities freeways were closed to traffic beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday. It does not appear he went around any barricades, Harrington said.

He didn’t know if the driver was injured by the truck crash itself or the protesters.

Drew Valle, a special education teacher at Minneapolis Washburn High School, said cars still driving on the roadway were going slowly to the right of the throngs of people when the truck came speeding toward the marchers.

“He wasn’t stopping. He was beeping loudly and driving into a crowd of people,” said Valle, visibly shaken. “That’s the same kind of malice that brought us here. It’s a callous disregard for someone’s humanity.”

Melanie Ramos of Minneapolis said: “A truck came. The horns were blaring. It was picking up speed. It was plowing down the highway into the protesters. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”

Dominic Kerr said he could smell the fuel and hear it “sloshing around” as the tanker approached.

“He was coming about 30 mph. I know at least one person who definitely needs help” Kerr said.

In a Sunday evening news conference, Gov. Tim Walz described footage of the truck driving into the crowd as a “horrifying image” and said that it underscores the “volatile” nature of the situation here in the Twin Cities.

Walz said law enforcement responded immediately to “protect the peaceful protesters” and that there are no confirmed cases of injuries involving protesters at this time.

“I don’t know the motives of the driver at this point in time,” he said. “But at this point in time to not have tragedy and many deaths is an amazing thing.”

Walz said the truck driver has been released from HCMC and is in police custody.

Thousands of people were marching to protest the death of George Floyd had shut town two major interstates in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Sunday afternoon.

Westbound Interstate-94 in St. Paul was shut down midafternoon as about 1,500 people left a rally at the State Capitol and marched toward Minneapolis before exiting on Lexington Parkway and returning east on University Avenue.

St. Paul police said the Justice for George Floyd march appears to be organized and peaceful.

In Minneapolis, thousands of people who met at U.S. Bank Stadium crossed the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and marched south on Interstate 35W. They paused on the bridge and took a knee, chanting: “What’s his name? George Floyd!”

As curfew went into effect, hundreds were gathered in front of Cup Foods to peaceful protest police. They commemorated Floyd with hundreds of flower bouquets arranged in a circle, and some painted images and phrases like “we honor you George in the middle. They played Bob Marley songs and set out water and food.

Before the marches, Walz had ordered highways and interstates to start closing at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., and the closures will be more extensive than originally planned.

Charles Adams of Chicago was visiting his daughter in Minneapolis and joined the march.

“It’s mind-blowing,” he said. “I really was impressed by the solidarity and the peacefulness of it. I hope that we would look in the mirror and realize that this is a real thing, and address it.”

In other developments, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Sunday that he has asked Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to assist in the cases arising out of the death of George Floyd.

Ellison has accepted Freeman’s invitation to be a full partner in further proceedings in this case. Last week, a number of elected officials asked that Ellison take over the prosecution because they did not have confidence in Freeman.

This is a developing story. Please return to startribune.com for updates.

Staff writers John Reinan, Pam Louwagie, Briana Bierschbach, Andy Mannix and Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

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