Dad flees after children injured in crash, St. Paul police say
ST. PAUL -- After Della Svenningsen got out of her vehicle early Tuesday in St. Paul to get away from a man accused of abusing her, she says, he drove off as their children slept in the back.
She heard a crash and her children yelling, “Mom,” she said: “I heard them screaming from a whole block away.” Svenningsen, 42, ran to them and found them seriously injured.
Fourteen-year-old Amarya West’s neck was broken, and the family has been told she might not walk again. Almond West, 8, had a broken femur and a severed artery in that leg. He and his sister both underwent surgery Tuesday, their aunt said.
Police said the children’s father, Earl Lionell Ward, fled, and they asked for the public’s help to find him. The accident happened about 3:20 a.m. at Hazel Street and Mechanic Avenue, and police arrested the 45-year-old Ward without incident about 6:30 p.m. They found him at a relative’s address in the North End after getting a tip, a police watch commander said.
Earlier in the day, St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Paulos said of Ward allegedly leaving the scene of the accident: “I do think that it’s a sense of desperation, that he cared about himself and not about the children. … You very, very seldom hear about a parent leaving the children behind.”
Ward, who has a long criminal history, had warrants for his arrest in two cases he’s been charged in — domestic assault and violation of domestic-abuse no-contact order. Svenningsen was the victim in both, the charges say.
The family was coming from Lake Elmo’s Vali-Hi Drive In early Tuesday. They’d just seen the current “Transformers” movie and “22 Jump Street,” said Tracie Svenningsen, Della’s sister.
“They had a nice, fun family day, and it ended in tragedy,” she said.
Della Svenningsen said she didn’t expect Ward to drive off when she got out of the minivan’s driver’s seat Tuesday. She said she didn’t think he would hurt his kids because he never had before.
The accident happened when Ward drove into a large construction hole in the road, Paulos said. He was driving fast enough that his children, sleeping in the back of the vehicle, were thrown forward, Paulos said.
“They always have their seat belts on because we have a really strict rule about it because my brother got killed in a car accident,” Svenningsen said. She thinks the kids possibly took their seat belts off before they fell asleep.
Svenningsen had told Ward she was planning to leave him because, she said, he was doing drugs.
She said she went to the restroom just before they left the movies, came back and smelled what she believed was crack cocaine or heroin; she said her 20-year-old son, who was with them, told her Ward had been smoking something. Ward’s criminal history includes drug offenses.
Svenningsen was driving, and after they dropped off her adult son in St. Paul, she said Ward started saying things that scared her and she didn’t think he would let her leave. She got out of the van, he got in the driver’s seat and drove off, Svenningsen said.
The accident occurred around the corner; Svenningsen didn’t see it.
Amarya had a complete spinal injury, said Tracie Svenningsen. The girl has no feeling in her legs or arms but has moved one arm a bit, she said.
“Of course, the doctors are going to give us the worst-case scenario and we’re going to hope for the best,” Tracie Svenningsen said. “They don’t believe she will walk, but we’re putting it in the hands of God.”
Almond will need another surgery, his aunt said.
The hole the minivan crashed into measured 20 feet by 21 feet, and was 8 inches deep, said Brad Eilts, St. Paul Regional Water Services distribution division manager. There were flashing barricades around it, “so it should have been clearly marked,” he said.
A water line leaked this winter and the utility had fixed it then, and returned Monday to begin a permanent repair for the roadway, Eilts said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.