Chesterfield man accused of crashing U-Haul truck into security barrier near White House to be in federal court Wednesday

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 8:03 AM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 1:52 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (AP/KMOV) — A man from Chesterfield who was accused of intentionally crashing a U-Haul truck into a security barrier at a park across from the White House will be in DC Federal Court Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday, Sai Kandula, 19, was read his charges during the brief afternoon hearing. The charges against him include deprivation of US property in excess of $1,000, destruction of US property, threats to kill, kidnap the president, VP, or family member and assault with a dangerous weapon. He will be detained and the case will be transferred to federal court. A hearing has been set for Wednesday.

A court sketch showing Sai Kandula during his first court appearance on May 23, 2023.
A court sketch showing Sai Kandula during his first court appearance on May 23, 2023.(William J. Hennessy Jr.)

Kandula’s public defender argued that there was no probable cause for his arrest, contenting there was no evidence that the actions were intentional. The judge said the evidence suggested he drove into the barriers, pulled back and then drove forward again, indicating he intended to destroy the property. The judge also said the suspect posed a “significant risk to the community” and a flight risk.

According to an affidavit, Kandula had been planning this for six months.

In an interview with investigators, Kandula said his goal was to “get to the White House, seize power and be put in charge of the nation.”

When agents asked him how he would seize power, he told them he would “Kill the President if that’s what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way.”

When asked about the flag he showed at the scene, Kandula said it was a swastika and that he purchased the flag online because “Nazi’s (sic) have a great history.”

The affidavit goes on to say Kandula said he admired Nazis’ “authoritarian nature, Eugenics and their one world order.”

He asked if he looked up to any leaders, and he told agents “Hitler, because he was a strong leader.”

Prior to the hearing, the Rockwood School District confirmed that Kandula graduated from Marquette High School in 2022. The district confirmed he participated in Student Council during his sophomore year and was a member of the boys’ tennis team during his sophomore and junior years. The Chesterfield Police Department told News 4 they were unfamiliar with the suspect, but that they had been contacted by the FBI.

Multiple telephone numbers listed under Kandula’s 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.

News 4 was in the West St. Louis County Neighborhood where it is believed Kandula lived throughout the day. People walked in and out of the house all day, but wouldn’t respond to requests for comment.

One man, who lived in the neighborhood, told News 4 off-camera that he saw Kandula walking almost everyday, but Kandula kept his head down and would not respond to greetings.

The box truck’s driver smashed into the barrier near the north side of Lafayette Square on Monday at around 10 p.m., Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. No one was injured.

The manager for media public relations for U-Haul said that Kandula had rented the U-Haul truck last night around 6:30 p.m. EST from a store in Herndon, Virginia, which is less than 30 miles from The White House. He had rented the truck for one day.

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.

Sai Kandula is accused of intentionally crashing a U-Haul truck into a security barrier at a...
Sai Kandula is accused of intentionally crashing a U-Haul truck into a security barrier at a park across from the White House.(Rockwood School District)

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 taking an inventory of 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,” Guglielmi said. Authorities offered no additional details about the possible motive and had not released the driver’s identity.

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.

She also said President Biden was in the White House at the time the incident occurred.

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.

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.