A 22-year-old has been charged with attempted murder after cops say he purposely drove his car into a group of 25 sheriff’s recruits while they were on a training run in Whittier, the Los Angeles Times reports. A breathalyzer test administered at the scene of the arrest on Wednesday tested 0.0., the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
The driver, 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, was charged on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers and is in custody with bail set at $2 million.
The group of 75 recruits from the STARS Center Academy in South Whittier were jogging in a four-column formation at around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, accompanied by two drill instructors and two radio cars, when a Honda CRV closed in on them. The Honda then abruptly crossed to the wrong side of the road, plowing into the cadets, according to witnesses. The sheriff’s trainees at the front of the columns were able to jump out of the way, but those in the rear were directly in the car’s path.
Police say Gutierrez’s vehicle came to a stop only by crashing into a lamppost.
One witness said “it looked like an airplane wreck,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva shared at a news conference Wednesday. The recruits, who tended to each other while waiting for help to arrive, saw exposed bones and critical injuries.
“There was so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved,” Villanueva said. He called some of the injuries, which included lost limbs, “life-altering.” More than a dozen others experienced minor to moderate injuries.
There is evidence that the driver sped up before mowing down the group, as some trainees said they heard the engine accelerating, Sheriff Villanueva said, via the New York Post.
“Some recruits are saying they heard the car accelerating, they estimate around 30 to 40 miles per hour,” the sheriff said. “You can see how little reaction time that allows someone.”
Authorities are still investigating the cause.
“So far, it looks like it’s an accident, a horrific accident,” Villanueva said.
Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Marcos Espiritu, who works Station 96 on Mills Avenue, the street where the crash occurred, said he’d “never seen something at this magnitude.” He described the recruits to the Times as being “pretty much totally in shock” after the alleged attack. “They were just very quiet and helping their classmates.”
Seven recruits were in the hospital as of Thursday, with two listed in critical condition.