Road Kill

Their cars were moving when James Lundquist and William Anderson opened fire on strangers. But was anyone at the wheel?

That difference was apparent on August 7 last year, when Anderson's father called 911 to say that his son, who'd been despondent over losing his girlfriend, was talking about suicide. Police arrived to find Anderson's father, brother, and a friend pinning him on the stairwell.

According to the officers' report, Anderson had come home drunk, started arguing with his friend, and threatened to go upstairs and jump out of the third-story window. The cops heard him shouting obscenities and threatening to "kill everybody." They took him to a detox center, where a test revealed he had a blood-alcohol level of .23.

Three weeks later Anderson purchased a .22 rifle with a 10-round clip and 300 rounds of ammunition. When police asked him why, he said there was no particular reason. "I think he just wanted to shoot at cans and stuff," says Andy Pyle.

Anderson modified the weapon by trimming the stock. He told police it "looked cooler" that way; it also had the effect of making the rifle easier to handle in cramped quarters.

A few days later, on August 30, he worked at the State Fair until 10 p.m. Then he joined some friends in Falcon Heights. They drank vodka and beer, and about 5 a.m. Anderson got a ride home. He took the rifle out of the trunk of his car and started driving.

Soon afterward there was a report of gunfire on a Roseville street. Anderson later admitted to shooting holes in a sign. A few minutes before 6 a.m., a witness saw Anderson shoot through the living-room window of a residence in Little Canada. The witness called police and described Anderson's vehicle.

Half an hour later Dale Westvig was driving on I-35W near Stinson Boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis when Anderson passed him, firing as he went by. A fusillade of bullets shattered the windows and penetrated the windshield.

"It was one of the scariest experiences you can imagine," says Westvig. "I was confused for a moment when I heard the first bullet hit. Then I was terrified because it became obvious what was happening. Bullets came through the window, through the windshield, right through the sun visor. One of them hit where my head had been a moment before."

Westvig called 911 on his cell phone with a description of Anderson's car and part of his license number. A short time later Anderson was arrested. At first he wouldn't talk, but by that afternoon he made a statement to Sgt. Thomas Ludford of the Highway Patrol. He remembered little, he claimed, of what happened after he left his friend's house in Falcon Heights. He could offer no explanation for what he'd done. He mentioned that it couldn't have been due to trouble with a girlfriend, since he didn't have one.

Eventually Anderson owned up to his actions, after a fashion. Throughout the process of being charged, making a plea, undergoing investigation, and being sentenced, he stuck with two key claims: that he was blind drunk when he was driving around, and that he blacked out during the shootings.

"He was right around the legal limit when he was tested a little while after I arrested him," says Ludford. "I honestly don't think he'd have gotten a DWI if that was the issue." Ludford is familiar with the blackout alibi (amnesia is a common variation, according to other investigators). "You hear that one quite often."

Ludford says he wanted the charge against Anderson to be attempted murder, a felony that carries a minimum sentence of 25 years. But, he adds, "I won't second-guess the prosecutor's decision. That's not my job."

That job fell to Hennepin County Assistant Attorney Caroline Lennon, who charged Anderson with second-degree assault, a felony punishable with up to seven years in prison. And as with Lundquist, the key to the charge was intent: Prosecutors say they could not prove Anderson got into his car planning to kill someone. "Do you believe that pointing a loaded gun in the direction of someone and pulling the trigger is per se intent to commit murder?" Lennon asks. "If you do, that's the real difficulty here."

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman referred all inquiries about the charges to his press assistant, Kari Dziedzic. She was asked the following questions, and said she would show them to the members of a "review team" that advised Lennon on the charging decision:

Did Anderson's threat to "kill everyone" on August 7 imply intent to commit manslaughter? Did purchasing a rifle, a 10-round clip, and 300 rounds of ammunition imply intent? Did customizing the weapon's stock in a way that made it easier to fire from a car imply intent? Did removing the rifle from the trunk, loading it, and putting it near to hand imply intent? Did firing through the window of an occupied home in Little Canada imply intent?

If firing the first time at Dale Westvig on the freeway was an impulsive act, was the second shot just as rash? The third? The fourth and fifth? Is it possible to do what Anderson did while one is blacked out? Is there any evidence that Anderson was so drunk he didn't know what he was doing? (It is worth noting that he had a considerably higher blood-alcohol level on August 7, when he threatened suicide, yet according to the officers was fully conscious on that occasion.)

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