Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A mother’s perspective on the Amy Senser hit-and-run case May 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:09 AM
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YOU NEVER FORGET. That day. That defining moment when your world stops and panic sears your soul.

My moment occurred six years ago, the morning my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing the street to his school bus stop within a block of our Faribault home.

May 12, 2006. The day I became all too familiar with the term “hit-and-run driver.”

At approximately 7:40 a.m. a blue 4-door car, possibly a Chevrolet Cavalier or Corsica, struck my boy whose body slammed into the side and/or front of the vehicle, somersaulted through the air and landed alongside the street.

The driver never stopped. Nor has the driver ever been found.

Fortunately my son suffered only minor injuries, although we do not know what the long-term impact will be on his physical health as he ages.

And what about that driver? Why did he/she fail to stop? It is the question which occasionally still haunts me, which early on angered me. It is the question which led me to ask a local philanthropist and the head of the local bus company to contribute money toward a $1,000 reward (which BTW has expired as has the statue of limitations on the hit-and-run).

Why did the driver of the car fail to stop after hitting my child?

I don’t ask myself that question all that often anymore, except around the anniversary date or when I hear of a hit-and-run. Like the case of Amy Senser, wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser, convicted last week in the August 2011 hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong. She was found guilty of leaving the scene of the accident and failure to promptly report an accident, both felonies, and of misdemeanor careless driving.

Ten days after the accident, Amy Senser finally admitted that she was the driver of the vehicle. Senser maintained during her trial, however, that she thought she hit a construction barrel or a pothole around 11 p.m. on that fateful night. Instead, she struck Phanthavong who had pulled to the side of an interstate exit ramp when his car ran out of gas. He was filling the car’s gas tank when he was hit and killed. By a hit-and-run driver. Amy Senser. Who thought she hit a construction barrel or pothole?

Early on in the investigation into my son’s 2006 hit-and-run, local police investigators maintained that the driver of the car fled because he/she had something to hide: driving drunk, driving without a license, driving without insurance, prior conviction…

Six years ago I couldn’t fathom those as “good enough” reasons to drive away from a child you’d just slammed into with your car. I still can’t justify those excuses. As the years have passed and I’ve heard of more and more hit-and-runs, I’ve come to believe the police theory that the driver in my son’s case had something significant to hide.

Yet, I will never, never understand how anyone, in good conscience, can strike someone with their vehicle and then simply drive away. Drive. Away.


SEVERAL YEARS AFTER my son’s hit-and-run, I wrote a poem about the incident and eventually entered it into The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc annual writing competition. “Hit-and-Run” subsequently earned an honorable mention in poetry and published in 2010 in The Talking Stick, Volume 19, Forgotten Roads. That book title seems so appropriate.

My poem focuses on my emotional reaction, making this poem especially powerful.



In that moment, I know,
as the rivulets of water course down my body,
as I step from the tub
dripping puddles onto the linoleum,
that the sirens wail
for you,
my boy, my only son.

You, who tossed your backpack
over your bony shoulders,
then hurried
toward the street,
toward the bus stop.

While I showered,
you crossed carelessly,
your fragile body bouncing
off the car
you had not seen,
flailing in a somersault,
landing hard on the pavement.
Sirens scream, and I know.

Panic grips,
holds tight my heart,
my very soul,
as I race from the bathroom,
wrapped in a bath towel,
stand immobile,
watching the pulsating red lights
of the police car
angled on the street,
blocking the path to you.


ANYONE WITH INFORMATION on the May 12, 2006, hit-and-run case involving my son should contact the Faribault Police Department or Crime Stoppers of Minnesota at 1-800-222-8477. A local investigator told me a year ago that the case remains open and that police will follow up on any tips and leads.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Who struck my son on May 12, 2006, in Faribault and then drove away? May 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:47 AM
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I have a file thick with information related to my son's hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers, get well cards and more.

EVEN AFTER FOUR YEARS I still hear the questions: “Did they ever catch the driver? How is your son doing?”

I’ll be at the grocery store, a garage sale, the library, when an acquaintance, out of the blue, asks. That interest all these years later catches me by surprise; people, clearly, have not forgotten.

Four years ago today on May 12, a cold and drizzly Friday morning much like today, my then 12-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street to his school bus stop in Faribault.

Caleb was not seriously injured considering that he bounced off a car, flew through the air and landed in the street. He suffered a broken bone in his hand, a possible fractured rib and bumps and bruises. However, the long-term affects on his health remain unknown.

Four years later, Faribault police are no closer to solving the crime than they were in 2006.

Initially, several tips came in to the police department. Once, my hopes were raised when a suspect was named in an anonymous letter. That turned out to be an issue of alleged harassment by one person against another and had nothing to do with my son’s case.

Police have checked out vehicles matching the description of the blue 4-door car, possibly a Chevrolet Cavalier or Corsica. Once they even met with a prisoner regarding a car that fit the crime.  All leads have dead-ended.

No one has stepped forward with concrete evidence that ties a driver to the scene near my home, even though a $1,000 reward was initially offered in the case.

I am surprised, really, that the driver who struck my son and then drove away has not talked or confessed. I cannot imagine the guilt of carrying that secret.

While, early on, I was angry and wanted nothing more than to find the driver and hold him/her accountable, now I am more interested in hearing “why.” I want to ask, “Why did you drive away, leaving my boy, my only son, lying there? How could you?” As a mother, I find that action unfathomable.

The police have always contended that the driver had something to hide, a strong reason to continue driving.

I would like answers, and, yes, in all honesty, accountability.


A POEM THAT I’ve written related to my son’s hit-and-run recently earned honorable mention in a state-wide competition. Hit-and-Run will publish in The Talking Stick, Volume Nineteen, Forgotten Roads, due out in August from the northern Minnesota based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. My poem finished in the top seven among more than 200 poems submitted in this literary journal competition.

Although the subtitle was not chosen because of my poem, I find Forgotten Roads quite fitting for an anthology that includes Hit-and-Run.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling