BELLFLOWER – Arraignment was delayed Tuesday for a Diamond Bar man who is facing 10 felony counts and a misdemeanor for allegedly striking a group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recruits in the Whittier area last November, including one who died earlier this year from his injuries.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 23, is charged with one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and nine counts of reckless driving causing great bodily injury stemming from the Nov. 16, 2022, crash, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Gutierrez also faces a misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. His arraignment had been set for Tuesday in Bellflower, but since he is out of custody, the matter was delayed and no new date was immediately set.
Gutierrez was initially arrested hours after the crash and booked on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer but was released a day later, with sheriff’s officials saying the complex case needed more extensive investigation.
Gutierrez was re-arrested last Thursday by the California Highway Patrol and released on $500,000 bond within less than two hours, according to the sheriff’s Inmate Information Center website.
The charges carry a maximum potential state prison term of 12 years, according to District Attorney George Gascón.
The case stems from a crash that occurred around 6:30 a.m. Nov. 16, 2022, in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue, near Telegraph Road, just blocks from the sheriff’s STAR Explorer Academy law enforcement training center in Whittier.
A group of about 75 law enforcement trainees were on an organized run heading north when a southbound 2018 Honda CRV swerved to the opposite side of the street and plowed into the recruits, leaving a trail of injured bodies.
The crash injured 25 recruits, sheriff’s officials said at the time.
One of them, Alejandro Martinez, a 27-year-old veteran and graduate of Cal State Northridge, died July 28 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood as a result of his injuries.
Gascón told reporters that “tragedy struck” during what should have been a routine training run for Academy Class 464 “as a driver in a moment of reckless disregard” veered onto the wrong side of the street, resulting in the “catastrophic collision.”
Gutierrez told reporters in 2022 that he fell asleep at the wheel.
When asked about the cause of the crash, Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake told reporters that “there are multiple causes in a chain of events that led to that.”
“There is a claim of drowsiness that we’ve been exploring,” Blake said. “This has been an exhaustive investigation that began after reviewing all of this with the possibility that this was an intentional act and eventually we’ve discovered that this is the appropriate charge — felony gross vehicular manslaughter — and the other charges that you heard about.”
The prosecutor noted that he didn’t want to disclose too much about the evidence, but said that “one of the theories involved among the other theories (is) a claim that he fell asleep at the moment of impact.”
Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters last week that the charges are a “step towards justice for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy Alejandro Martinez and his family and all the members of Academy Class 464 who were injured and affected by this individual who struck them” while they were on a training run.
“This man was a true hero,” Luna said of Martinez, who had served his country and also been an elementary after-school coordinator and soccer coach at a local neighborhood park.
Luna said that there are “several other recruits who are still recovering from their injuries as we speak today” and that some are not going to realize their dream of becoming police officers or sheriff’s deputies.
The case was filed after a lengthy investigation by the CHP’s Southern Division Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team and detectives from the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau that “took a substantial amount of time because of its complexity” and “encompassed numerous interviews” and a detailed analysis of evidence, Luna told reporters.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn issued a statement last Thursday reacting to the charges, saying, “What happened to recruit class #464 on their morning run last year was a terrible tragedy that took the life of Alejandro Martinez and forever altered the lives of his fellow recruits. While it won’t bring Alejandro back, it is important that the driver be held accountable, and these charges are the first step. I appreciate our sheriff’s detectives and the District Attorney’s Office for their dedication to pursuing justice in this case.”