EXCLUSIVE: Released Driver in Sheriff’s Recruits Crash Comes From Policing Family, Attorney Says

Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez plowed into 25 L.A. police recruits after he fell asleep on his way to work installing solar panels, his defense attorney tells LAMag
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The young man just released from custody after he mowed into 25 L.A. sheriff’s recruits this week, critically injuring five of them while they were out on an academy run at dawn, is the son of a retired corrections officer and harbors “absolutely zero animosity toward law enforcement,” his defense attorney tells LAMag.

Nicholas Joseph Guiterrez, 22, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers. Guiterrez’s Honda CRV closed in on a group of recruits from the STARS Center Academy in South Whittier who were jogging on Mills Avenue in a four-column formation at around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. Eyewitnesses reportedly said that just before crashing into the group, the Honda crossed to the wrong side of the road.

Before his release on Thursday night, investigators executed a search warrant on Guiterrez’s Diamond Bar home and spoke with his employer and family, defense attorney Alexandra Kazarian tells LAMag. Ultimately, they decided that there was not enough evidence that he targeted the recruits, she added.

He was released at 9:49 p.m. on Thursday. Jail records mention California Penal Code 849(b)(1), which says police may release someone who has been arrested without an arraignment if insufficient grounds exist to make a criminal complaint. His initial arrest on  Wednesday has now been deemed a detention.

“He is a hard-working young man who lives with his parents and installs solar panels for a living,” she tells LAMag.

But on Wednesday, outgoing L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva insisted there is evidence that Guttierez accelerated into the recruits. Kazarian, however, says evidence proves her client fell asleep en route to his job on Wednesday morning.

“Homicide investigators have no evidence whatsoever to say this was intentional,” she added.

Seconds before the crash, the sheriff’s trainees at the front of the columns were able to jump to safety. But this left those behind them directly in the path of the Honda as it came barreling toward the group. Gutierrez’s Honda stopped when it hit a lamppost, police said.

At a Wednesday news conference, Villanueva told reporters that one witness said “it looked like an airplane wreck” as recruits tended to each other while awaiting emergency responders. They also apparently saw exposed bones and critical injuries.

Villanueva indicated on Wednesday that evidence exists that the driver sped up before plowing into the group.

“Some recruits are saying they heard the car accelerating, they estimate around 30 to 40 miles per hour,” the outgoing sheriff told the media. “You can see how little reaction time that allows someone.”

At the time of that news conference, however, authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash. Villanueva continued to declare the crash an attack on Thursday, insisting that evidence shows this to be true.

“They went through an exhaustive interview process with everyone involved, with the video surveillance, the statements from the recruits, the physical evidence they have, and what they got from the suspect himself, and they were able to form the opinion this was a deliberate act,” he told News Nation.

Police are currently gathering all available evidence as they investigate the incident.

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