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Santa Rosa protesters accuse motorist of trying to hit them during Saturday night march

Santa Rosa police said Sunday an investigation continues regarding a nurse who drove home from her evening shift at a local hospital Saturday night and encountered peaceful protesters marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Participants in the 24-hour downtown demonstration said the driver of a white Porsche Cayenne deliberately drove into protesters around 9:20 p.m. as they marched east down the middle of Sonoma Avenue near E Street in downtown Santa Rosa, endangering them. The nurse driving the SUV told police her vehicle was vandalized by a group of the protesters and one of them punched her in the face.

Caitlin Childs of Santa Rosa was at the front of the march riding her bicycle and captured cellphone video of the vehicle. It first stopped, then passed her before swerving toward the center of the road and accelerating through the estimated crowd of 150 protesters.

“I witnessed cars pass peacefully, and I witnessed the way she drove,” Childs said. “There’s no question she was intending to hit somebody.”

The video shows protesters screaming at the vehicle driven by the nurse as it passes in the dark.

Her SUV was surrounded at one point by protesters, struck by a skateboard and other unknown objects, breaking the windshield.

The driver tried to “maneuver her way out of the crowd until her path was clear,” police said. Then, an unidentified man threw a bicycle in the path of the SUV.

Facebook video (Warning - Language)

The female driver, who police declined to identify due to the nature of the incident, told officers she was scared due to the “swarm” of people blocking the street, and pulled over further west on Sonoma Avenue once she had gotten by them. The woman had just finished work at a local hospital and said she did not try to run into the crowd and had not hit anyone, and so far no victims have come forward to say they were struck by her vehicle, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Summer Gloeckner said Sunday.

“We don’t believe there was any intention to try and hit anybody,” Gloeckner said.

“It was more a sense of panic, and to get out of the way of protesters.”

It was then, the driver told police, that a man she described as white, bald, in his 20s and with face and arm tattoos, and who police think was involved in the protest, caught up to her on his bicycle and punched her in the face. A bystander tried to chase down the man, but was unsuccessful as he rode away, police said.

The nurse driving the SUV did not seek medical attention, and police are reviewing videos of the protest to see if anyone matches the description of the man who assaulted her. So far, police have no leads, Gloeckner said, and no charges were filed against the driver.

“There is no indication from the videos that the driver was trying to run over protesters on purpose,” the sergeant said.

“The videos do show the driver trying to accelerate somewhat away from the crowd.”

Forestville resident Miles Sarvis-Wilburn said he and his partner were at the back of the group of protesters Saturday night when they heard shouts to get out of the way.

The couple’s Mask Sonoma group was at the protest to hand out face masks and water, and was following along as the march headed east on Sonoma Avenue.

Sarvis-Wilburn said the SUV was accelerating west as it passed him, and it was going much faster than numerous other vehicles that had driven by.

He said he was disappointed by the reaction of responding police officers.

“Vehicles always seem to be driving into people, and it always seems to be it’s not their fault,” Sarvis-Wilburn said. “SRPD is telling me, as a private citizen, that it’s OK to drive into crowds of people in the streets of Santa Rosa.”

Police plan to speak with additional witnesses and view more video footage of the incident this week to decide whether any charges are warranted, Gloeckner said.

Police ask anyone with information about the incident to call 707-528-5222.

Staff Writers Kevin Fixler and Tyler Silvy contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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