See more of the story

Derrick Thompson injured a woman in a hit-and-run in California so badly that her medical bills exceeded $2 million by the time she sued him a year later.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2020 for evading police and inflicting great bodily injury causing the victim to become comatose. By the time Thompson sat for a deposition in the civil lawsuit last October, he was already preparing to leave prison in a few months because of California's early-release policies.

But Thompson, now 27, complained that he had been charged too harshly.

The great bodily injury charge classified him as a violent offender "when this case is not even a violent case," he told attorneys in sworn testimony. "So I disagree to that because of those reasons stating that the doctor said that she was in an induced coma, not … in a coma when she arrived to the hospital.

"And the victim was — was not dead. She was still alive, so I didn't feel like I should be charged with those — with that crime."

Thompson left a California prison in January. Prosecutors say that last week he sped through a red light in Minneapolis and struck a car with five women, killing them instantly.

A Star Tribune review of hundreds of pages of documents, including depositions of Thompson and the woman he injured in California, shows how his reckless driving wrought destruction long before prosecutors charged him Thursday with 10 counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

Thompson was not supposed to be in California the day of that hit-and-run — he never secured permission to travel there while on probation for another case in Minnesota.

In that case, St. Paul police had found Thompson unconscious in a vehicle one night in 2017, and he told them he had "a little bit" of marijuana and gave a false name. But an officer determined his true identity and found he had a felony warrant for violating probation on a marijuana possession charge. When the officer asked him to step out of the car, Thompson drove away; police abandoned the pursuit for safety reasons.

Thompson was sentenced on July 25, 2018, to a year in prison, but the sentence was stayed for three years if he completed supervised probation. At the time, Thompson lived with his mother in Brooklyn Park; his father is former state Rep. John Thompson. The couple divorced in 2010.

Six weeks after sentencing, Thompson flew to Los Angeles, where he stayed at a hotel with two friends from Minnesota. On Sept. 4, 2018, one of the friends rented a Chevrolet Malibu, and Thompson drove the three of them back from Santa Barbara, Calif., the car's trunk loaded with 17 pounds of marijuana. Amid stop-and-go traffic on Hwy. 101, he drove 100 yards on the emergency shoulder to exit the highway.

When police officers from the city of Ventura reportedly saw Thompson pass them, driving in a reckless manner, they switched on the lights of their truck and followed him. He did not stop, so they gave pursuit.

Thompson claimed he didn't see the police on the highway or on the road he took running along a tourist-filled beach. He said he did see a black truck with lights and sirens in the rearview mirror in Montecito, but didn't think it was coming for him.

By the time Thompson's eyes returned to the road, he saw a stop sign and slammed on the brakes. The car skidded and veered toward three women crossing the street.

Jennifer Jensen, then 57, had flown to Montecito from North Carolina and was walking with two friends to the ocean. One of the women saw the Malibu make an out-of-control turn, felt a gust of air and smelled rubber. "Run!" she screamed.

Thompson slammed into Jensen and crashed into a retaining wall. Her body hit the windshield so hard the glass cracked. A witness saw Jensen thrown 20 to 30 feet into the air.

After the crash, Thompson said, he saw people jump out with guns and yell, "Freeze!" He said he didn't know they were police — and ran.

"I was scared for my life," he said.

Thompson took a cab to the airport and left town. "I chilled in Vegas," he recalled.

He missed his appointment with a Minnesota probation officer and went to Phoenix, eventually flying back to Minnesota. Asked whether he was evading arrest, he said he wasn't and gave a puzzling answer about leaving the scene.

"I looked at it like … if this is the owner of the vehicle, yeah, it's my actions," said Thompson. "But anything that you need, as far as insurance, as far as anything, they're able to help you. They got more help than I can help you."

He was arrested and extradited to California in October 2018. Thompson said his father referred an attorney to him; by then, John Thompson was rising as an activist against police misconduct after an officer killed his friend Philando Castile. Thompson was elected to the Legislature in 2020 but lost in the primary last year after the DFL caucus expelled him.

Jensen said in a March 2023 deposition that she doesn't remember the crash — or anything from her vacation. She remembers only waking up in the hospital nearly two months later.

Jensen suffered a traumatic brain injury, crushed pelvis, broken arm, fractured ribs and spinal injuries. Doctors induced a coma to perform surgery. She was hospitalized for three months, and spent extensive time in out-patient rehabilitation. She suffered memory loss and struggled to talk normally: "I just spewed out words. Didn't make any sense."

She improved with therapy, but problems remain: When driving, she can't turn her head far enough to check traffic. She can't lift objects as easily, swim or get on the floor to play with her grandchildren. Once a foodie, she lost her sense of taste and smell.

"I get a lot of anxiety from my brain injury," Jensen said.

In 2019, she sued Thompson, his passengers and the police who followed them. She claimed the officers acted with reckless disregard for her and other pedestrians by pursuing Thompson through a residential neighborhood beyond their jurisdiction. Jensen said the crash cost her more than $200,000 in lost income as a saleswoman that year.

She and her attorneys did not return messages.

Thompson served his sentence at a prison fire camp, earning credits for good behavior and rehabilitation programs that allowed for early release. In his October 2022 deposition, an attorney asked Thompson if he would go home upon leaving prison.

"Is it your plan to go back to Minnesota?"

"No," Thompson said, noting that he was ordered to pay $150,000 in victim restitution. Citing California law, he added, "I cannot go back until my restitution is paid off before I get off parole."

Thompson was released in January, and months later Minnesota reinstated his license. In March, as the civil suit headed to trial, Jensen said in a deposition that she had recently started receiving restitution.

"I know that they're garnishing the guy who hit me, they're garnishing his wages, and I've gotten a couple small checks for that," said Jensen.

She estimated that Thompson so far has paid her $200.

Correction: Previous versions of this story misstated part of John Thompson's election history.