WHITTIER, Calif. — The 22-year-old driver who rammed into a group of law enforcement recruits for training in LA County has been arrested, authorities said.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was arrested on Wednesday and charged with the attempted murder of one or more law enforcement officers.
Additional charges are currently pending, authorities said.
The incident took place early Wednesday morning. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said a class of about 75 recruits were on the run as part of a training exercise when the 22-year-old driver rammed into the group.
The collision left all 25 recruits with injuries ranging from head trauma to loss of limb. At the last check, we remain hospitalized on a respirator. A total of five recruits are currently in critical condition, four are being treated for “moderate” injuries and 16 have minor injuries.
Surveillance of the incident recorded from a nearby backyard shows the group of recruits running in close formation along the road, escorted by two cruisers astern of the columns.
The SUV drives on the left side of the road and does not appear to slow down or swerve as it heads straight for the jogging group.
In fact, there were indications the driver might have accelerated shortly before the collision, Villanueva said.
“Some recruits say they heard the car accelerate, they estimate around 30 to 40 miles per hour,” the sheriff said. “You can see how little reaction time it gives someone.”
There were no indications of obstacles or other vehicles in the road that would trigger the driver’s behavior. The Honda SUV also slammed into a lamp post and knocked it over after hitting the recruits.
“There was a street light on the east side of the street and the only thing that got across to me was, ‘Thank goodness for that street light’ because the vehicle eventually hit it and stopped instead of possibly touching. more recruits,” said LASD Captain Pat MacDonald, who heads the department’s training office.
Villanueva said the recruits came from several different agencies, including Bell, Glendale, Pasadena, El Segundo and UCLA police departments. The others belonged to the sheriff’s department.
The driver was slightly injured, according to firefighters. Villanueva said the driver took a field sobriety test shortly after the accident and “blew a 0.0”.
The test does not rule out the presence of drugs, but Villanueva said the official cause of the incident remains unknown.
When asked if the accident appeared to be accidental or intentional, Villanueva replied: “It looks like an accident, a horrible accident.”
The five critically injured patients were sent to various area hospitals, including UCI Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center, LAC+ USC Medical Center and PIH Health Whittier Hospital.
“Fortunately every class, usually we have paramedics, I think that class even had an RN who was a rookie, so they were able to provide first aid on the spot with the equipment they had,” Villanueva said. “They went, ran to the fire station and knocked on the door because it was literally half a block away. It was lucky too, so things that worked in our favor happened. produced.”
Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, who will succeed Villanueva as Los Angeles County Sheriff, released a statement saying, “I am heartbroken and praying for the recruits who have been injured this morning after being struck by a vehicle in Whittier. I want to offer my unconditional support to the Sheriff and Chiefs of LA County Police Departments, their departments, and the families of those injured during this difficult time.”
Earlier Wednesday, as the scene unfolded, helicopter footage captured more than a dozen sheriff units as well as several fire engines and ambulances at the scene. First responders were seen treating recruits in the middle of the street and loading several others into ambulances.
A man who lives in the area said he woke up after hearing the crash and ran outside.
“I came out to see people on the ground…it was really crazy,” said the witness, who wished to be identified only as Joseph. “Everyone was a little freaked out, there were wires on fire and the car was smoking…it was really a graphic scene.”
Joseph said he and several other neighbors rushed to help some of the recruits by giving them water and towels.
“The car was completely destroyed, as if the whole front end was finished,” he said. “The lamppost was on the floor…it was like three or four of us had come out because it had happened before. We’ve lived here for 10 years. It’s happened before, like when a car crashed into a portal, but it felt like… no one could imagine that happening.”
Joseph described the massive scene as “surreal” and said he saw several seriously injured patients.
“There were so many people. Everyone was sort of in various conditions, some were unconscious, some were still conscious, some with very serious leg injuries. There were people bleeding from their faces. The academy from the sheriff…like they run around here all the time so you kind of feel connected to them,” Joseph said. “So that was a really crazy thing to wake up to.”
Authorities said the traffic portion of the investigation was being handled by the California Highway Patrol.
Gutierrez, who is from Diamond Bar, is reportedly cooperating with authorities. He is currently being held on $2 million bond.
The Sheriff’s Department said investigators plan to present this case to the LA County District Attorney’s Office on Friday.
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