A man has been charged in connection with a hit-and-run crash that killed three people and injured a fourth outside a Chicago gay bar earlier this month.
Tavis Dunbar, 34, was taken into police custody on Aug. 22 and charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said during a news conference on Tuesday, which was shared on Facebook.
Brown claimed an investigation showed Dunbar “intentionally struck multiple pedestrians” when he plowed his car into a crowd of people gathered outside the Jeffery Pub, a Black-owned gay club on Chicago’s South Side, around 5 a.m. on Aug. 14.
Police say that at the time of the crash, after the bar had closed, a group of people were fighting in the street when a sedan accelerated and careened into them.
Three patrons were killed in the crash: 27-year-old Chicago resident Devonta Vivetter, 25-year-old South Holland native Donald Huey, who had been planning to move back to the Chicago area from Los Angeles, and 23-year-old Jaylen Ausley, who had recently graduated from the University of Michigan. All three were transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
A fourth victim, Carlee McKinney, was hospitalized in serious condition, but survived, reports USA Today.
Brown said the incident was a “senseless act of violence” and that he hopes the arrest will bring a sense of closure to the victims’ families.
“There’s no circumstances that make losing a loved one less painful,” he said. “But we hope that bringing this offender to justice brings some small sense of relief.”
Brendan Deenihan, the police department’s chief of detectives, said at the Tuesday news conference that they had been able to track down and identify Dunbar as a result of anonymous tips from the community, interviews with people who were at the bar and in the surrounding neighborhood, and security camera footage.
Authorities found the sedan used in the attack — with its front end heavily damaged and its airbag deployed — abandoned outside a building located about four blocks from the bar. Based on the tips received, police say they were able to track Dunbar, who reportedly walked into a building to ask a friend for help.
Dunbar surrendered to authorities on Monday and “invoked his right to remain silent,” according to Deenihan.
Deenihan said police are still unsure as to whether there was a motive behind the hit-and-run, although he added that there’s currently no evidence showing Dunbar committed a hate crime or targeted people based on their “sexual orientation, race, creed or anything else.”
At a preliminary bond hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office claimed that an altercation had broken out earlier in front of the bar around 5 a.m. and spilled into the street. While police say Dunbar was not involved, court documents claim a witness heard a man who resembles Dunbar’s description yell out: “I got something for you, you motherf—er.”
That witness claimed the person walked north on S. Jeffery Boulevard, towards where the sedan was parked. Video of the incident, which was shared by local news outlets, including NBC Chicago, shows headlights turning on and a car speeding toward the group of people.
According to prosecutors, the car’s “black box” shows it was traveling at 47 miles per hour a few seconds before impact and at 59 miles per hour a half-second before hitting the four men.
“The accelerator was depressed 99% and [Dunbar] never once touched the brakes,” prosecutors said in a statement presented in court. “[He] essentially slammed on the gas pedal as he drove directly into four human beings. Each were either thrown up in the air … or dragged by the car and left to die in the street as [Dunbar] drove off.”
Prosecutors claim Dunbar drove the car — which reportedly belonged to his cousin — to a building four blocks away before parking it. A witness told police they heard the car making clunking noises as it traveled up the street, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Prosecutors said during the bond hearing that Dunbar was seen pacing back and forth outside the car while on his cell phone, calling a friend who lived in the building to let him inside.
The friend told police Dunbar’s hands were bloody and there was glass in his hair. Dunbar mentioned the fight outside the bar but did not reveal the “true extend of what happened,” prosecutors claim. The friend drove Dunbar home, first stopping at the parked car so Dunbar could retrieve personal items.
At home, Dunbar told someone else he had been kicked out of the bar and drove away because “people were coming at him,” according to prosecutors. He claimed he had gotten into an accident while fleeing and damaged the car.
Later, as video of the attack circulated, Dunbar asked that second person to provide an alibi for him. According to prosecutors, the person refused, telling Dunbar he had killed two people.
“Actually, it’s three,” Dunbar reportedly replied.
However, Dunbar’s lawyer argued in court that the lack of motive in the case undermines the charges against his client or the idea that the crash was intentional. He said prosecutors “will have a very difficult time proving the case that was summarized at today’s bond hearing.”
“This very well could be a case in which the driver panicked and failed to report what was a very unfortunate accident,” attorney Robert Kerr said.
Prosecutors also noted that Dunbar has prior assault convictions on his record, leading Cook County Judge Susana Ortiz to order him to be held without bond while he awaits trial.
But Kerr insisted that his client isn’t a flight risk or a danger to society, noting that Dunbar did not flee the jurisdiction but made arrangements to surrender peacefully to police.
“My fear here is that the state is over-reaching on charges of first-degree murder,” Kerr said, according to the Sun-Times. “And that Mr. Dunbar is being unjustly detained without any opportunity to post bail.”
The National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s leading Black LGBTQ civil rights organization, previously criticized Chicago police for failing to take violence against LGBTQ victims of color seriously, pointing to the unsolved murders of seven Black trans women killed in the Chicago area over the past two years as evidence. The group’s executive director, Dr. David Johns, also said police should look into investigating the hit-and-run as a possible hate crime.
“It is incumbent upon the Chicago Police Department to investigate this attack as more than just a triple homicide and attempted murder, but also as a potential hate crime,” Johns said in a statement. “We are owed equal protection under the law — and we demand that the law enforcement community treat attacks against us with the urgency and seriousness we deserve.”
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