The driver of an SUV who hit 25 Los Angeles County sheriff’s and police recruits, five of whom were critically injured, Wednesday was arrested on attempted murder charges, authorities said.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Diamond Bar resident, was charged with attempted murder of a peace officer with additional charges pending, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Investigators “have developed probable cause to believe it was intentional,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an interview with NewsNation on Thursday.
Villanueva told the news station that the department went through “an exhaustive interview process” with all members involved in the case, including video surveillance, statements from the recruits, physical evidence, and information from Gutierrez.
Investigators “were able to form the opinion this was a deliberate act,” Villanueva told the news station.
Authorities did not give an update on the victims of the Wednesday morning crash in Whittier. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a Wednesday press conference one of the five critically injured was on a ventilator. Some of the most severe injuries included head trauma, broken bones and loss of limbs, he added.
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Before Gutierrez’s arrest, Villanueva said the a field sobriety test was done on the scene, but results showed the driver was not intoxicated.
Gutierrez’s SUV was traveling in the southbound lane before crossing into a northbound lane and hitting the recruits. The group of 75 recruits was made of people from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and local police departments.
The accident happened around 6:30 a.m., after sunrise. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department training bureau Capt. Pat MacDonald previously said two black and white radio cars were serving as safety vehicles for the group, and eight road guards wearing reflective vests were present. Some recruits told responding authorities they estimated the vehicle was going about 30 to 40 miles per hour.
Citing the Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gutierrez’s bail was set at $2 million.
Gutierrez is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, according to online records. It’s not immediately known whether Gutierrez has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
Sheriff’s authorities have not yet presented their case against Gutierrez to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for prosecution and said they expect to do so on Friday.
Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, a defense attorney who previously worked as a prosecutor in nearby Riverside County, said to file an attempted murder charge prosecutors would need to prove Gutierrez had an intent to kill.
“There is a high bar to prove it, to show this guy was trying to kill these cadets,” he told the Associated Press. He said evidence obtained from the vehicle could be critical, adding that a key question is whether the driver applied the brakes as the vehicle moved toward the recruits.
“If he is slamming on the brakes and realizes he is doing something wrong it is very different than if he is pressing on the gas,” he said.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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