Missouri man accused of deliberately crashing U-Haul truck into security barrier near White House
May 23, 2023, 5:13 AM | Updated: 1:24 pm
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Missouri man rented a U-Haul truck Monday evening and then crashed it into a security barrier across from the White House just a few hours later, authorities said Tuesday.
The box truck’s driver smashed into the barrier near the north side of Lafayette Square on Monday around 10 p.m., the Secret Service said in a statement. He was identified as 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula, of Chesterfield, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb.
No one was injured in the crash.
After the crash, Kandula exited the truck with a Nazi flag and started shouting as Park Police and Secret Service officers approached him, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. When he was questioned by investigators, Kandula said he was there to take over the government and wanted to kill President Joe Biden, the people said. The people were not authorized to publicly discuss specific details of the investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Kandula rented the U-Haul truck around 6:30 p.m. in Herndon, Virginia, and had a valid contract in his own name, the company said. People must be 18 to rent a truck from U-Haul, and there were no red flags on his rental record that would have prevented the contract, according to U-Haul.
A witness, Chris Zaboji, said the driver smashed into the barrier at least twice. Zaboji, a 25-year-old pilot who lives in Washington, was finishing a run close by Lafayette Square when he heard the loud crash of the U-Haul truck hitting the barrier. He said he took out his phone and captured the moment the truck struck the barrier again before he heard sirens approaching.
“When the van backed up and rammed it again, I decided I wanted to get out of there,” he said.
Officers from the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department searched the truck after the crash. Video posted by WUSA-TV shows a police officer at the scene picking up and inventorying several pieces of evidence from the truck, including a Nazi flag.
Based on a preliminary investigation, investigators believe the driver “may have intentionally struck the security barriers at Lafayette Square,” the Secret Service said. Authorities offered no additional details about a possible motive.
The U.S. Park Police said Kandula was arrested on multiple charges, including threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on a president, vice president or member of their family; assault with a dangerous weapon; reckless driving; destruction of federal property; and trespassing.
Biden was briefed on the crash Tuesday morning by the Secret Service and Park Police, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “He’s relieved that no one was injured last night,” she said.
The U.S. Secret Service monitors hundreds of people who have made threads to the president, but it’s not clear whether Kandula was on their radar at all or if he had threatened the president before, which would trigger the Secret Service’s involvement.
No attorney was listed for Kandula in court records, multiple telephone numbers listed under his surname in public records were out of service, and efforts by The Associated Press to reach relatives who could speak on his behalf on Tuesday were not immediately successful. People at a Missouri home listed as being associated with Kandula would not speak with an AP reporter.
Lafayette Square, which offers perhaps the best view of the White House available to the public, has long been one of the nation’s most prominent venues for demonstrations. The park was closed for nearly a year after federal authorities fenced off the area at the height of nationwide protests over policing following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but it reopened in May 2021.
U-Haul is a moving truck, trailer and self-storage rental company based in Phoenix.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter in Chesterfield, Missouri, Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo in Washington and newsgathering producer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.