Senser Gets 41 Months in Fatal Minnesota Hit-and-Run

By Martiga Lohn | July 11, 2012

The wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser was sentenced Monday to almost four years in prison in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Thai restaurant chef.

An attorney for Amy Senser had sought probation, saying she was “deeply remorseful” about the accident last August that killed Anousone Phanthavong as he stood beside his car on a Minneapolis freeway ramp. But Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Mabley rejected that request, saying he felt Senser had avoided taking responsibility for the crash.

Senser, 45, was convicted in May of leaving the scene of an accident and failure to promptly report an accident, both felonies.

Before she was sentenced, Senser cried audibly as victim impact statements were read. She also cried later as she apologized to members of Phanthavong’s family, some of whom wore T-shirts bearing his picture.

“I just hope someday you can forgive me for taking Anousone from you,” she said. She said she “just never saw him” and added: “I’m so very sorry.” Mabley sentenced Senser to 41 months in prison and rejected a request from her attorney, Eric Nelson, that she remain free on appeal.

Still, Mabley’s sentence was on the low end of the range of 41 to 57 months called for in sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors had asked for all 57 months, saying Senser had shown no remorse and made only excuses for the crash.

Nelson argued that she had, noting in court Monday that she had gone so far as to tattoo Phanthavong’s name on her wrist after the verdict as a reminder.

The case was one of Minnesota’s most closely watched criminal trials in years, with overtones of a cover-up and a defendant married to a well-known figure in the state. Senser’s husband, Joe Senser, was a tight end for the Vikings in the early 1980s and has remained visible as a game commentator and as owner of a string of restaurants in his name.

Phanthavong, 38, was a chef at a Thai restaurant near the site of the accident on Aug. 23. His car had run out of gas and he had pulled to the side of the highway exit ramp. He was filling the car’s tank when he was hit. Parts of a Mercedes were found at the scene, and authorities sought the public’s help in finding the driver.

Nearly 24 hours later, Nelson called authorities to tell them they could pick up the vehicle involved at the Sensers’. Despite giving up the vehicle, the Sensers didn’t talk to police, fueling speculation about who was driving and whether alcohol was involved.

It was more than a week later that Amy Senser admitted she was driving.

During her trial this spring, Senser testified that she felt a jolt when she turned onto the freeway exit ramp in an area undergoing construction, but thought she had hit an orange construction barrel or a pothole. She said she didn’t realize a man had been hit until seeing news reports the next day.

But prosecutors said Senser had to have known she hit someone, and highlighted numerous texts that were deleted from Senser’s cellphone the night of the crash and the next day.

The Sensers settled a civil lawsuit filed by the Phanthavong family shortly after the criminal trial ended.

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