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Protesters recount moment Hollywood driver ‘floored it,’ striking woman

Paramedics help a protester who was hit by a vehicle on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. (Los Angeles Times/Wally Skalij)
A protester who was hit by a pickup truck is attended to Thursday as paramedics arrive on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Vishal Singh has been to a lot of protests where motorists get a panicky look in their eyes as their vehicles become surrounded by demonstrators. He’s even seen a few lurch their cars forward, anxious to pull off but too boxed in to go far.

But an incident in Hollywood on Thursday night was something different, said Singh, 27, who works on Netflix documentaries and frequently attends and films local protests.

The driver of a large truck drove into a protest in Los Angeles over the Breonna Taylor decision — briefly pausing before driving forward again, striking a woman and sending her flying onto her back along Sunset Boulevard.

“He floored it,” said Singh, who was so close that his own foot was run over.

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The hit-and-run occurred during a protest over the Wednesday announcement in Louisville, Ky., that the police officers who fatally shot Taylor during a bungled raid on her home there would not be charged in her death. It followed a summer of unrest, in L.A. and other cities across the country, in which police protesters and anti-protesters have repeatedly clashed.

The incident also sparked its own debate online, as videos of it landed on social media late Thursday — some showing the woman flying through the air, and others showing protesters pushing toward the truck just before the driver accelerated.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Police Department said it was still investigating the incident.

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Officers had stopped and identified the driver Thursday night, but then let him go. Capt. Steve Lurie, who commands the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said police were reviewing whether the driver — and another who drove a Prius through the same protest crowd — were “the suspect of a hit-and-run or the victim of an assault.”

The truck driver told police that protesters had attacked his car first, and officers noted damage to the vehicle, Lurie said. On Friday, police said a preliminary investigation had determined that protesters had surrounded the man’s truck and “began beating his vehicle with sticks and tried to open the door to his vehicle.”

Police said the driver “cooperated with officers and provided information” when they stopped him several blocks away. They said detectives would be canvassing the area Friday looking for witnesses and video of the incident.

“While no arrests have been made, the investigation is still in its early stages and involves Hollywood detectives and investigators from LAPD’s West Traffic Division,” the LAPD said.

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The woman who was struck could not be reached for comment Friday. The driver has not been publicly identified.

But Singh and other protesters said the driver’s account of what happened, as conveyed by police, was incorrect. They also said the police response — and their decision to let the man go after what they considered to be a violent attack — was ridiculous.

The driver was perched above the crowd because of the height of his truck, and was not in any danger, Singh said. He said the truck driver clearly saw the woman in front of him and hit the gas anyway.

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“He was trying to drive around everybody, and just didn’t care that she was in the way,” he alleged.

Bri Riley, 23, a volunteer street medic at the protest, said protesters had tried to form a line in front of the truck to force it to stop while the crowd passed — a common tactic during street demonstrations to keep protesters safe. However, the pickup driver didn’t stop.

“No one hit the car until he hit the person,” Riley said.

In addition to the woman’s injuries, Singh said his foot was run over and badly damaged, though doctors didn’t think it was broken.

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Austin Baffa, a freelance videographer from Orange County, was standing in the middle of the street filming when he heard yelling, turned around and saw the woman get sent flying.

“I sprinted over and threw my phone down and grabbed her and dragged her out of the way,” said Baffa, 27. “As I was dragging her out of the way, the truck backed up and hit the gas again.”

Baffa said he managed to pull most of the woman’s body out of the truck’s path. He then held her for about 20 minutes to keep her neck stable.

About 40 minutes after the driver struck the woman in the crowd, another altercation occurred between protesters and a motorist in a Prius.

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Footage showed the Prius trying to maneuver through the crowd, riling protesters. The driver then drove off, but was followed by protesters in a black truck and a green Mustang, whose drivers attempted to box in the Prius with their vehicles.

People in the truck and the Mustang got out of their vehicles and attempted to pull the driver of the Prius out of the vehicle, but failed to do so. The Prius driver drove off again, and was stopped blocks away by police — where he cooperated, police said.

On Friday, police said video of the incident “depicted a potential assault” on the Prius driver by the protesters who jumped out of the other vehicles, and that an investigation is ongoing.


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