Amy Senser letters of support reveal another side of Amy

Amy Senser's family supports her
Amy Senser's family supports her

Amy Senser will be sentenced later this morning for killing Anousone Phanthavong in a hit-and-run last August.

Prosecutors want Senser to serve nearly five years in prison, the maximum; her defense attorney, Eric Nelson, seeks probation. To bolster his argument for leniency, Nelson submitted 113 letters to the court attesting to Amy Senser's character. Those testimonials from friends and family present a portrait of a kind, loving woman who deserves the court's mercy.

"One phrase that I have kept repeating since August is, 'There for the grace of God go I...'" wrote Senser's cousin, Lynn Zarling, in one plea. "Please consider my dear cousin Amy's character and what she has to offer not only her family and young daughters, but the rest of the world."

Senser's supporters range from Minnesota's elite -- former Viking Mike Mullaney and ex-congressman Jim Ramstad vouched for her in letters to Hennepin County Judge Daniel Mabley -- to Peruvians.

Just about every letter submitted on Senser's behalf doubts Senser would drive away from the scene of an accident knowing she hit someone, despite a jury of her peers finding her guilty of that offense this spring.

Veronica Vargas Chacaltana wrote from Tupac Amaru de Villa in Peru: "I in this letter declare with sincerity and frankness that Amy Senser is a great person."

Chacaltana recounts a story about her nephew, Miguel Vasquez Vargas, who was born with Treacher Collins disease. Amy helped Miguel receive medical care and when he came to Minnesota, the Senser family welcomed him into their home for four months.

"Because of the great love that Amy Senser and her family gave to Miguel he felt like he was part of their family," Chacaltana wrote. "They did not receive any money in exchange; only our love and gratefulness."

That spirit of generosity extended to the less-privileged in Minnesota, according to Senser's karate coach. She helped a family friend named Justin, whose family could not afford karate lessons, pay for classes.

"I can't really say I was surprised," wrote Hamed Firouzi. "This is just the type of thing that Amy does."

Some of the letters contain bizarre lines. Donna Baker, a client at the chiropractor's office where Senser worked, recounted a conversation she had with Senser "early on after this terrible accident."

Senser couldn't tell Baker much about the accident except that she didn't know she had hit someone and that she deeply "regretted not stopping and checking for sure."

Baker responded, "I probably wouldn't have gotten out of my car either as we've all heard the warnings about a woman alone at night not getting out of their car for fear of being attacked."

Another letter-writer, Susan Johnson, says she's known Amy "since she was a toddler." Johnson calls Amy a "dear person" who has been victimized by others' irresponsibility.

"While I feel everyone involved in this case has tried their best to do what they thought was right, I believe bad decisions have been made, and Amy is now the victim of them," Johnson wrote. "I ask you what the responsibility of the deceased is in all of this? He ran out of gas and his car stopped on a ramp where it is illegal to park, there were no lights, and construction all around. He should not have been there and he should not have been on cocaine, which is also illegal."

Johnson also suggested the city of Minneapolis is partially at-fault for the tragedy.

"What is the city's responsibility in all of this, allowing a very dangerous and confusing construction stretch exiting the freeway to be open and not having proper lighting?"

Others, like Hopkins school district gym coach Brian Cosgriff, call Senser a "gift from God." Cosgriff characterizes Senser as the kind of parent "that schools can only dream about having within their school community."

"In my humble opinion, our community would be in a far more dangerous place if Amy Senser were incarcerated," Cosgriff wrote.

Instead of sentencing Senser to prison, the letter-writers generally urge Judge Mabley to give her some form of community service so she can continue to do good for the world.

"Amy would be a tremendous candidate to have a punishing schedule of speaking to youth groups and other civic organizations," says Bill Arnold, a family friend for more than 20 years. "Heck, I could even help her with her presentation."

One of the more interesting letters came from Amy Senser's father, who addressed the longstanding charges that Senser was given special treatment by the system due to her wealth.

"I am hurt by the way the media has depicted this tragedy as a contrast between 'privilege' and 'poor immigrant boy,'" Keith Olson wrote. "The Amy I have known for 45 years, although privileged in many ways at this point in her life, has always had a basic tendency to respond and relate to the marginalized and the not-privileged in this world. She is the kindest and most accepting person I know."

Even if Amy spends time in prison (which is the likely result of sentencing today), Olson said he's sure of one thing:

"Her spirit of inclusiveness and kindness will not be destroyed," Olson wrote. "And in some mysterious way a small part of that prison will be left a better place."

See the full letters of support on the next page. Kelsey Reid contributed reporting to this story.


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