Guilty plea in bus shelter crash; judge debates whether to accept


George Jensen pleaded guilty Wednesday to five counts of criminal vehicular operation for crashing into a bus shelter but the judge said he was not sure he would accept the plea, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday.

Jensen, who lived in Champlain at the time of the crash and will turn 84 at the end of the month, will learn Hennepin County District Court Judge Jay Quam’s decision on April 20.

“I have to decide whether to accept this plea,” Judge Quam said at the hearing Wednesday morning. “I am not comfortable accepting it, yet, but I will listen, get all of the information I can and then decide.”

At the end of the hearing, he told Jensen and his lawyer that he wants Jensen to undergo a neurological exam and for the county attorney’s office to provide details on all of the victims’ injuries and any input they want to provide to the judge. Judge Quam also asked to see the video of the crash. Jensen’s attorney told the court that Jensen is in the early stages of dementia.

Jensen pleaded guilty to five felony counts of criminal vehicular operation, one count for each victim. In return, his sentence would be up to 23 months in prison, although he would not have to serve that time if he successfully completes three years of probation. Jensen also would be sentenced to 365 days in the workhouse, although he would not have to serve that time if he completes 100 hours of community service. He also must pay restitution to cover the medical and other related costs of the victims.

During his guilty plea, Jensen admitted:
• That prior to the July 9 crash, he had mobility issues requiring him to use a walker and he obtained a handicapped sticker for his vehicles.
• He was headed to the farmer’s market that day and was on Lyndale and Broadway Avenues, an area he knew well because he often stopped at the McDonald’s there for coffee. He also spoke to people near the bus shelter through his passenger window several minutes before the accident.
• After the conversation, Jensen went through a parking lot and while coming south on Lyndale, the mirror of this Ford Econoline 350 van hit the side of a Metro Transit bus. Instead of stopping, he turned right onto Broadway.
• That he was driving slowly on Broadway but then accelerated and hit the bus shelter. He couldn’t understand why the van accelerated but now knows his foot was on the accelerator and he could not react quickly enough to put it on the brake.

He acknowledged that the severe injuries to the victims caused by his van collapsing the shelter was due to his gross negligence of getting into a vehicle with a weak leg, talking to people from the van and not reacting to his foot pressing on the accelerator.

His attorney concluded by saying that Jensen wanted the court and the people to know that he did not hit the bus shelter on purpose.

“That is true,” Jensen said.

The prosecutor asked that Jensen acknowledge the specific injuries he caused. He did as his attorney talked about the multiple pelvis fractures, rib and vertebrae fractures, significant blood loss and multiple surgeries for one victim. The second victim suffered fractures of both legs, rib fractures and damage to the spleen. A third victim was knocked unconscious and suffered fractured ribs. A fourth victim sustained a spinal fracture and the fifth victim sustained a fractured rib.