SOUTH WHITTIER, Calif. – 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 identified Thursday, and he remained jailed on suspicion of attempted murder on a peace officer.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, was being held in lieu of $2 million bail, according to jail records. He was booked at the sheriff’s department Norwalk Station around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
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 Sheriff Alex 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.
Law enforcement agencies across the Southland quickly began sending words of support to the sheriff’s department in response to the crash.
“We are praying for the LASD recruits involved in today’s accident in Whittier,” the Pomona Police Department tweeted.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said it was monitoring the unfolding situation.
“We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for the injured cadets and their families,” the union tweeted.
The Sheriffs’ Relief Association — which provides aid to department members during times of crisis — also began accepting donations from the public following the collision. 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.
Definitely praying for them. They wanted to be of service. I hope they get lots of support.