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Witnesses testify in second day of hit-and-run case

The Hennepin County District Court heard from witnesses of the crash and from the man who bought Timothy Bakdash’s car after.
Timothy Bakdash
Timothy Bakdash

Witness testimony filled the second day of Timothy Bakdash’s murder trial, including a friend who said Bakdash admitted to hitting people two days after the crash.

A group that saw the collisions and the friend who bought the defendant’s car after the crash reconstructed the day of the hit-and-run and those that followed. Bakdash faces one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly hitting four pedestrians. University of Minnesota student Ben Van Handel, 23, died as a result of the incident.

Bakdash’s friend told the court Tuesday that Bakdash admitted to hitting people that night.

Defense attorney Joe Tamburino argues Bakdash didn’t mean to kill anybody and that there wasn’t premeditation — the determining factor in the first-degree and attempted murder allegations. He said Bakdash was drunk and high at the time and only wanted to scare the man who he thought he fought with earlier that night at a Dinkytown bar.

Hennepin County prosecutors say Bakdash intended to kill.

One of the witnesses, Aron Epperson, said he was the first person hit that night. After being hit, the driver continued the wrong way down Fifth Street Southeast, Epperson testified Tuesday.

He said he saw the car hit another person — the last of the other three victims –– near the end of the block at Fifth Street and 12th Avenue.

Epperson and three friends were out at the Library Bar and Blarney Pub and Grill  in Dinkytown. Epperson thinks he left alone around bar close, walking back toward his friend’s car.

Robert Kliewer, 24, and University alumnus Travis Segelstrom, 22, said they think they left the bars separately but met up later on Fifth Street. All three said they had been drinking. The fourth member of their group did not testify Tuesday.

Kliewer said he was on the Fifth Street sidewalk in front of St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center when he heard a car coming. He ran onto the grass to get out of its way.

“It kind of reminded me of a videogame like Grand Theft Auto — like, people jumping out of the way,” he said.

Kliewer said he heard screaming but didn’t see anyone get hit.

The men each estimated the car was traveling between 15 and 30 mph.

Segelstrom said he heard three collisions — three people being hit — but only saw the last.

“It sounded like a hand smacking a hood really hard,” Segelstrom said. He heard screaming coming from the direction of the collision and saw a body fly in the air.

During the hours of testimony, Van Handel’s family sat a few feet from Bakdash, who seemed quiet and calm.

Some family members cried quietly, becoming more emotional at certain parts, like when the defense attorneys played a tape of a University police officer updating a Minneapolis sergeant on Van Handel’s condition days after the crash.

“I can’t believe that kid’s still alive,” homicide unit Sgt. Robert Dale said on the tape.

First cop on the scene

University police Sgt. Thomas Bohrer was patrolling Dinkytown when he got the hit-and-run call. It was 2:02 a.m., he read from his police report Tuesday.

He arrived on the scene to find a man lying face down in the street. An “inconsolable” woman kneeled next to the victim, whom she identified as Van Handel.

“Injuries I observed without moving him appeared to be a laceration toward the right side of his head,” Bohrer testified.

He said he yelled Van Handel’s name and put a hand on his back but received no response. Bohrer left Van Handel with the woman to attend to another victim.

Car transfer witnesses

In the afternoon session, two key witnesses reconstructed the events surrounding the days after the hit-and-run.

Witness Cathy Bordeau said she thought she overheard Bakdash say he had been in an accident and thought he hit someone or something.

Bakdash and Brandon Bordeau were in Bordeau’s room at the White Bear Lake apartment he shares with his mom and her fiancé. Cathy Bordeau testified she overheard Bakdash saying he’d been drunk and thought he hit somebody through her son’s closed door as she walked by.

She called a tip line that Saturday afternoon and communicated back and forth with police into the night, trying to hide what she was doing. One time when police called her, her son was in the same room, so she told the officer she had the wrong number.

“I didn’t want Brandon to know that … I may have called the police on his friend,” she told the court.

Assistant Hennepin County attorney William Richardson asked Cathy Bordeau why she turned in her son’s friend.

“I’m a mom, and it was up to me to do the right thing,” she responded, tearing up during parts of her questioning.

Brandon Bordeau’s testimony conflicted with his mother’s on one point: He said Bakdash never mentioned hitting a person until after selling the car. He said Bakdash just mentioned hitting “something,” like an animal.

“It just seemed like he didn’t want to talk about the accident,” Brandon Bordeau said.

Bakdash and Brandon Bordeau got to know each other over Frisbee golf, Brandon Bordeau said. The two had smoked marijuana together in the past, and the night Cathy Bordeau overheard their conversation, they were watching TV and playing games. The two were “pretty good friends,” Brandon Bordeau said.

Before the incident, Brandon Bordeau said he was interested in buying Bakdash’s car if it were ever available. The Mitsubishi Galant was in excellent condition before the crash, he said — he would’ve paid about $3,000 for it.

Prosecutors showed pictures of the damage done to Bakdash’s car after the crash. There were creases in the hood and dents on the front passenger’s side.

The windshield had spider marks, but Brandon Bordeau removed it as he fixed the car once he bought it.

After April 15, Brandon Bordeau said he’d only pay $1,500, he testified. He gave Bakdash $1,000 right away and bought the car, promising to pay the remainder when he had it.

A couple times, Brandon Bordeau called the incident an “accident,” and Richardson was quick to correct him.

“In fact, you don’t know whether it was an accident or an intentional act,” Richardson said.

Brandon Bordeau also testified about the involvement of Bakdash’s mother, Diane Bakdash, who faced accomplice charges until they were dropped.

According to Brandon Bordeau’s testimony, Diane Bakdash told her son “it was advised to get rid of the vehicle” after the crash. Timothy Bakdash told Brandon Bordeau about that conversation, Bordeau testified.

The prosecution presented photos showing the rear license plate of the car — parked nose-first in Bordeau’s garage — flipped so the numbers and letters weren’t visible. Brandon Bordeau said he didn’t think much of it, and when he asked why Bakdash did it, Bakdash replied there was “no particular reason.”

A couple days after the accident, Bakdash confessed to Brandon Bordeau.

“I need to tell you the truth about that accident,” Bakdash said, according to Brandon Bordeau’s testimony. Bakdash said he’d hit people.

Brandon Bordeau said he never would’ve bought the car if he’d known the truth.

Cathy Bordeau said she just “didn’t want to believe that Tim was involved in it.”

“He’s a good kid,” she said.

The trial continues Wednesday morning with more testimony from Brandon Bordeau. 

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