Amy Senser, the wife of restaurant owner and former Vikings star Joe Senser, has not been arrested after admitting guilt in the hit-and-run accident that killed Anousone Phanthavong. But the Phantahvong family isn't waiting to seek its own justice.
The Phanthavong family filed a lawsuit this morning against the Sensers for the accident, in which Phanthavong, the head chef at True Thai restaurant, was filling his car with gas alongside the road when Senser's Mercedes SUV hit him.
A lawyer representing the Senser family eventually contacted the State Patrol and acknowledged that Amy Senser was the driver, and that the car driven in the accident could be found in the Sensers' garage.
Jim Schwebel, the attorney bringing the Phanthavong family's suit, told City Pages that the lawsuit comes in part thanks to frustration over how the Senser family has stonewalled the investigation.
"The Senser family has really put a lid on this," Schwebel said. "There's a lot of frustration in the community, with people thinking that the rich and powerful don't have to answer for what they've done."
Joe Senser's playing career with the Vikings ended early, in the mid-'80s, but he's since gone on to own four Joe Senser's Sports Theater restaurants in Twin Cities suburbs. Senser is also a sports media personality, calling college football games for WCCO.
As evidence of the Senser family's unwillingness to cooperate on the case, Schwebel made reference to the fact that the Sensers waited until 10 days after the accident to send a one-sentence fax acknowledging that Amy Senser was the driver, and had fled the scene.
Among the things Schwebel said the family wants to come out at the trial are whether Senser was drinking at the time of the accident -- a Mike's Hard Lemonade cap was reportedly found inside the car -- and if she was alone in the car. Schwebel said the lawsuit would force some of these facts into a courtroom whether the Sensers decide to cooperate with authorities or not.
Beyond bringing facts to light, the case could also force the Sensers to pay for Amy's crime in a different way: The lawsuit is seeking damages against Senser "greater than $50,000," a blanket legal term which means there's no ceiling on what amount the jury might give the Phanthavongs.
Schwebel said the family was seeking "whatever a jury is willing to award, given the facts of the case," but said the Phanthavongs were still grieving, and not thinking about money.
"They only want fairness," Schwebel said of the Phanthavongs. "This is a first-generation immigrant family that does not have a lot of experience with the American system of justice, and they're frustrated."