A 27-year-old man drove a white Jaguar on to a closed motorway in Seattle and barrelled through a panicked crowd of protesters, injuring two women, officials have said.
Dawit Kelete, of Seattle, drove the car around vehicles that were blocking Interstate 5 and sped into the crowd at about 1.40am local time on Saturday, according to a police report released by the Washington State Patrol.
Video taken at the scene by protesters showed people shouting “Car! Car!” before fleeing the road.
Summer Taylor, 24, of Seattle, and Diaz Love, 32, of Bellingham, were in a critical condition with multiple injuries, according to Harbourview Medical Centre spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
My hope is, as a result of this tragedy, protesters will reconsider their desire to be on the interstate because I cannot guarantee their safety, plain and simpleRon Mead, Washington State Patrol captain
Ms Love was filming the protest in a nearly two-hour-long Facebook live stream captioned Black Femme March takes I-5 when the video ended abruptly; with about 15 seconds left, shouts of “Car!” can be heard as the camera starts to shake before screeching tyres and the sound of impact are heard.
Video on social media showed the car striking two people.
The driver, who was alone in the Jaguar, fled the scene after hitting the protesters, trooper Chase Van Cleave told the Associated Press.
One of the protesters got in a car and chased the driver for about a mile. He was able to stop him by pulling his car in front of the Jaguar, Mr Van Cleave said.
Troopers arrived and the driver was put in custody, Washington State Patrol captain Ron Mead said.
He was charged with two counts of vehicular assault and bail was denied.
Officials were trying to determine the motive as well as point of entry on to the interstate.
Mr Mead said Kelete was suspected to have driven the wrong way on a ramp, and said troopers did not know whether it was a targeted attack, but impairment was not considered a factor.
Seattle has been the site of prolonged unrest following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests.
Dozens of people were arrested this past week in connection with protests as demonstrations continue after authorities cleared the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone on Wednesday morning.
Mr Mead said at the press conference that protesters had shut down the interstate for 19 days in a row.
He emphasised that the motorway is “simply not a safe place” for pedestrians, and said he hoped protesters would cease what he termed “unlawful behaviour” in blocking the interstate.
“My hope is, as a result of this tragedy, protesters will reconsider their desire to be on the interstate because I cannot guarantee their safety, plain and simple,” Mr Mead said.
Protesters were on the motorway for more than an hour before the car drove around the blockade at around 1.36am, Mr Mead said.
The state patrol tweeted out two pictures of the driver’s car, a white Jaguar with significant damage to its bumper and windscreen.
Seattle police tweeted that they were assisting with the scene, as southbound lanes of the motorway remained closed for investigation.