Driver who plowed into Minneapolis protesters thought he was Jesus headed to Super Bowl: report

Protester was struck and killed by an SUV during demonstration over a police-involved shooting death

Minneapolis police on Tuesday released the name of the suspect pulled from his vehicle after allegedly ramming his SUV into a group of protesters, fatally striking one woman, as demonstrations persist over the deputy-involved shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr. by a U.S. Marshals task force. 

Nicholas D. Kraus, 35, was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center on a probable cause hold for criminal vehicular homicide. The Minneapolis Police Department said in its press release that the traffic and homicide units "have reached a stage of their investigation where they are able to release the name of the suspect in this homicide without it negatively impacting their case." 

No additional information was released. The motive remains unclear, but the Minneapolis Police Department previously stated that their preliminary investigation "indicates that the use of drugs or alcohol by the driver may be a contributing factor in this crash." 

On Sunday, Minneapolis police were monitoring a protest in Uptown in the area of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South at around 11:39 p.m. "when they observed, on camera, a vehicle traveling eastbound on Lake Street and drive into a group of protesters," a previous press release said. 

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Deona Marie Knajdek, 31, died at a hospital from her injuries, Fox 9 Minneapolis reported. At least two others were hurt in the crash. 

Police said witness reports claim "protesters pulled the suspect from the vehicle" and "began to strike the driver." Additional squads and ambulances were called to the scene. Officers arrived and took custody of the driver. Kraus was transported to an area hospital for his injuries, police said. 

Online jail records show Kraus was arrested early Monday and was being held without bail. He's also being held on suspicion of driving after a license was canceled and providing false information to police, the Associated Press reported, citing court records. 

A search warrant affidavit obtained by KARE-11 says Kraus admitted several times that he was the driver, without being asked, but when asked specific questions he gave illogical and irrelevant answers. Kraus told police his name was Jesus Christ and Tim Burton, that he had been a carpenter for 2,000 years, and that he wanted to get his children to the Super Bowl, the affidavit says.

This undated photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows Nicholas Kraus. Minneapolis police on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, identified the man who drove into a crowd of demonstrators, killing one and injuring three others.

This undated photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows Nicholas Kraus. Minneapolis police on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, identified the man who drove into a crowd of demonstrators, killing one and injuring three others. ((Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP))

Police noted his pupils were small and didn't react to a flashlight. A field sobriety test could not be performed because of his injuries. The affidavit says a different city camera captured the incident and appears to show no brake lights before the crash.

Kraus has five convictions for driving while impaired dating back to a 2007 incident, according to online court records. Court records also show his driver's license was canceled in 2013 because he was found to be "inimical to public safety."

Garrett Knajdek, the brother of the woman who was killed as a result of the crash, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his sister "was using her car as a street blockade, and another vehicle struck her vehicle and her vehicle struck her." Video posted to Facebook by activist Donald Hooker Jr. showed someone later restraining Kraus on the sidewalk at the scene before officers arrived. 

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Meanwhile, city crews on Tuesday began clearing and reopening streets near the site of Smith’s shooting, but after police left, demonstrators moved back in and blocked traffic. Protesters told radio station WCCO they want the busy Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue intersection shut down much like the site of George Floyd's arrest is closed to traffic and memorialized as "George Floyd Square." 

"This is a safety concern," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement. "We can’t have a major commercial corridor like this shut down. We can’t have unauthorized closure of our streets, period. People need service." 

Minneapolis police are asking for the public’s help in locating a person who climbed a pole and spray painted a city-owned camera that would have recorded the crash had it not been disabled. 

Protests have continued in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis since June 3 when 32-year-old Smith was fatally shot in the top level of a parking ramp by Ramsey and Hennepin County deputies serving on the U.S. Marshals North Star Fugitive Task Force. 

Smith had a warrant for a felony firearms violation. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said there is evidence that Smith also discharged a firearm during the exchange. State investigators also said there is no body camera, dash camera or surveillance footage of the incident. 

Smith's criminal record included 20 convictions, mostly for minor traffic and parking violations, plus three marijuana charges and an aggravated robbery conviction in which his ex-girlfriend's face was beaten to a pulp, according to court documents.

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Other injuries and deaths have been reported involving vehicles at protests across the U.S. as people have increasingly taken to the streets to press their grievances. In Minneapolis, marching onto freeways has become a common tactic. Last year, a semitrailer rolled into a crowd marching on a closed Minneapolis freeway. No one was seriously injured. 

Republican politicians in several states, including Oklahoma, Florida and Iowa, have sought legal immunity for drivers who hit protesters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.