A motorist whose SUV swerved across a South Whittier roadway and slammed into a group of law enforcement recruits on a training run, injuring two dozen of them, was released from custody Thursday evening but the sheriff’s department plans to re-arrest him.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was released at 9:49 p.m. and that his initial arrest Wednesday has been deemed a detention, according to jail records cited by the Los Angeles Times.
The records cite California Penal Code 849(b)(1), which authorizes police to release arrestees from custody without first being arraigned if there are insufficient grounds to make a criminal complaint, according to The Times.
Investigators are continuing to develop the case against Gutierrez but are not legally allowed to hold a suspect in custody for more than 48 hours without presenting the case to prosecutors, Sgt. Gerardo Magos, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson told The Times.
Once investigators have built a case, they plan to arrest Gutierrez and present the case to the District Attorney’s Office, Magos told The Times.
Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, was booked at the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. He was being held in lieu of $2 million bail, according to jail records.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday indicated the crash initially appeared to be a tragic accident, noting that the motorist did not appear to be impaired by alcohol. But he said Thursday Gutierrez allegedly ran into the group of cadets on purpose.
“They (investigators) went through an exhaustive interview process with everyone involved,” Villanueva said during an appearance on NewsNation. “With video surveillance, statements from recruits, the physical evidence they have, and what they got from the suspect himself, they were able to form the opinion that this was a deliberate act.”
No other details were immediately released.
Gutierrez is accused of swerving his Honda CRV into a group of about 75 law enforcement cadets who were on a training run around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue, near Telegraph Road, just blocks from the sheriff’s STARS Explorer Academy law enforcement training center.
Sheriff’s officials said the group of recruits was running in columns northbound on the roadway when the southbound SUV swerved to the opposite side of the road and plowed into the trainees, leaving a trail of injured bodies that Villanueva compared to a plane crash.
The SUV then slammed into a light pole, which was knocked to the ground. The vehicle was reportedly going about 30-40 mph at the time, authorities said.
A law enforcement vehicle was behind the runners for traffic control, but there was no vehicle in front of them. The first runners managed to avoid being hit by the oncoming SUV, which plowed into those behind them, authorities said.
Villanueva said the most serious injuries included head trauma, broken bones, and “loss of limb.” Further details were not released.
All told, 25 recruits were injured, five with critical injuries, four with moderate injuries, and 16 with minor injuries. One of the critically injured recruits was on a ventilator, Villanueva said Wednesday.
The recruit who was on a ventilator was taken to Saint Francis Medical Center, and the recruits with the worst injuries were taken to UC Irvine Medical Center, officials said.
Villanueva said the training class included recruits from the sheriff’s department and various other law enforcement agencies, and those who were injured included two each from the Bell and Glendale police departments and one from the Pasadena Police Department. The rest were all sheriff’s department trainees.
The recruits were in the eighth week of their 22-week training program, Villanueva said.
Neighbors told reporters at the scene that recruits often run in groups through the neighborhoods near the academy.
The Los Angeles Times, citing an anonymous law enforcement source, reported that marijuana was found in the driver’s vehicle, but it was unclear if he was actually under the influence of the drug at the time of the crash. Villanueva said Wednesday the driver was not drunk, with a Breathalyzer test finding no indication of alcohol in his system.
Various reports indicated that authorities served a search warrant at the driver’s home Wednesday night.
The Sheriffs’ Relief Association — which provides aid to department members during times of crisis — is accepting donations from the public to support the injured recruits. People who wish to donate can write checks payable to the Sheriffs Relief Foundation, with “Class 464 Recruits” on the memo line, and send them to the association at 11515 Colima Road, Building B Whittier, CA 90604.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement Wednesday she was “shocked to hear that a driver plowed into a group of young sheriff’s academy cadets during their morning training run.”
“These individuals represent the future of law enforcement, they have incredible courage and my utmost respect for wanting to serve their communities,” Barger said. “I’m tracking this incident closely — it’s senseless and tragic. From the bottom of my heart, I am hoping no one was seriously hurt.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn called the incident “a tragedy on so many levels.”
“L.A. County has been making a concerted effort to recruit new deputies,” she said. “These men and women answered our call, and were training this morning when they were struck down. I want to thank the L.A. County firefighters of Station 96 who heard the crash and rushed over to help, and the sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene.
“Their quick work to transport the injured to hospitals saved lives this morning, and is a testament to the strength of the county family. I’m praying that the futures of these recruits have not been cut short today.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement, “Our hearts are with the Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits injured this morning while training to serve their communities. Jennifer and I send our best wishes for their recovery and stand with their loved ones and colleagues at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department during this difficult time.”
This tweet is rather disturbing:
Totally disturbing and disgusting. This is what our fututre looks like, people that think that way?
Kind of looks that way.
Wasn’t even funny. 22 sheriff’s deputies run over. There’s a lot of great jokes in that headline but that wasn’t it.