CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – Before the car hit him, there was an upbeat atmosphere among those protesting a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year, a student has recalled in court.
FILE PHOTO: James Alex Fields Jr., (2nd L with shield) is seen attending the “Unite the Right” rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police and charged with charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters later in the afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.REUTERS/Eze Amos/File Photo
The next thing Aubtin Heydari, 22, remembered was being soaked in blood and wondering why he could not walk.
Heydari was testifying at the trial of James Fields Jr., the white nationalist behind the wheel of the gray Challenger car that struck the victims, killing one and injuring 19 others.
Fields, 21, faces 10 charges for his role in the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, including for the murder of Heather Heyer, a counterprotester killed in the collision, which was captured in widely seen videos.
“A lot of people were singing protest songs and hymns, there was a lot of optimism,” Heydari testified in the Charlottesville Circuit Court on Thursday, describing the mood before Fields drove into the crowd. Field says he acted in self-defense, terrified by the crowds near his car.
Heydari also suffered a concussion that left him with severe memory loss.
“I remember something being wrong, and seeing blood, but I didn’t remember how, when or why,” he told the court. “I remember not being able to talk and blood running down my face.” He later learned his leg was broken and that he would require multiple surgeries.
Hundreds of white nationalists had gathered in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal a statue honoring the U.S. Civil War-era Confederacy from a public park. At a rally the night before the incident, they carried torches and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.
Responding after the violence, U.S. President Donald Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” drawing criticism from Democrats and fellow Republicans for equating the white nationalists with those who demonstrated against them.
Hours before driving into the crowd, Fields was photographed carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right group, although the group later denied he was a member.
The government contends that Fields’ killing of Heyer was pre-meditated murder, which he denies. His trial is expected to last three weeks.
(Corrects to show that Heydari was testifying on Thursday, in paragraph 5.)
Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Berkrot