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Photographer: He saw car speed into crowd at rally

Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer

Charlottesville, Va. – A photographer who captured images of a car slamming into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville told a jury Friday that he heard the driver rev his engine and saw him speed into the crowd.

Ryan Kelly, a former photographer for The Daily Progress, testified Friday at the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., who’s charged with killing a woman and injuring dozens at the 2017 rally.

Kelly said he noticed a Dodge Challenger backing up, then heard an engine revving and the screech of tires. He told jurors he saw the car accelerate into the crowd

“This car was speeding. It was going fast directly into the crowd,” Kelly said.

He said he ran and began shooting photographs of the chaotic scene. He heard the sounds of thuds, screams and cries.

Kelly won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo showing people tossed in the air after being struck by the car.

Fields’ lawyers say he was afraid for his life when he drove into the crowd after witnessing violent clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters earlier in the day.

The jury also heard from several people who suffered debilitating injuries when they were hit by Fields.

Jeanne “Star” Peterson said she was walking with a crowd of counterprotesters who were feeling “celebratory” after violent clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters earlier in the day prompted police to declare the “Unite the Right” rally an “unlawful assembly” and forced the crowds to disband.

“The alt-right didn’t get to have a single one of their horrible hate speeches,” Peterson said.

She said she remembers hearing three bumps and realized later that two of the bumps were the sound of Fields’ tires driving over her leg and then backing up over it.

She said she saw a woman thrown into the air when she was struck by the car. “I remember seeing her eyes,” Peterson said, adding that she thought to herself, “that’s what someone looks like when they are dead.”

She later realized the woman was Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counterprotester who was killed when she was struck by Fields’ car.

Peterson said her right leg was crushed by the car. Since then, she has had five surgeries and expects to have a sixth surgery next year. She used a cane to get into the courtroom and a wheelchair to leave, assisted by a sheriff’s deputy.

Another counterprotester, Wednesday Bowie, said she was walking with the crowd when she saw a flash of silver out of the corner of her eye. She recalled hearing a crash, “a loud booming noise,” she said.

She started running and then saw a car in front of her start to back up. She said she got caught on the trunk of the car, was slammed into a black truck parked nearby and then thrown to the ground.

“I remember people screaming the word ‘medic’ over and over and over again, basically from every direction,” she said.

Bowie said her injuries included a pelvis broken in six places, three cracked vertebrae in her back, a broken tailbone and a broken orbital socket.

Fifteen months later, she still cannot walk long distances or sit for a long period of time without being in pain.