Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the crash that injured 25 law enforcement recruits in South Whittier Wednesday morning was not an accident.
“(Investigators) went through an exhaustive interview process with everyone involved, with the video surveillance statements from the recruits, the physical evidence they had, and what they got from the suspect himself. And they were able to form the opinion that this was a deliberate act,” Villanueva told NewsNation Thursday.
The driver, Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was originally arrested for “attempted murder of a peace officer.” However, the sheriff’s department said he was released from custody Thursday due to insufficient grounds to file charges.
KTLA 5 sought answers from Gutierrez when he returned to his Diamond Bar home with family members Thursday evening.
“Why did you run into the recruits?” KTLA reporter Mary Beth McDade asked to no reply.
“Due to the extreme complexity of the investigation, which includes ongoing interviews, video surveillance review, and additional evidence needed to be analyzed, homicide investigators have released Mr. Gutierrez from the Sheriff’s Department custody today at approximately 9:55 p.m.,” authorities said in a statement. “Homicide investigators, along with California Highway Patrol investigators, will continue to pursue all evidence relevant to this matter until a thorough investigation is complete.”
Gutierrez had marijuana in the SUV and may have been intoxicated at the time of the crash, even though he passed a field sobriety test, sources told the Los Angeles Times.
Security camera video obtained by KTLA shows the SUV veering into the opposite lanes of travel and directly into a group of 75 recruits from the STARS Center Academy who were jogging on Mills Avenue around 6:30 a.m. The vehicle crashed into a light pole, likely preventing more injuries.
A total of 25 recruits were injured, five of them critically.
Other recruits immediately rendered aid to their injured colleagues while they waited for paramedics to arrive.
“The driver still had (his foot) on the accelerator, so my boyfriend had to break the glass or the window open to try to get him to stop,” one woman told KTLA. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to. But they were able to open the door and get the driver out and detain him.”
Authorities are still trying to determine why Gutierrez swerved into the recruits.
“The Sheriff’s Department would like to thank the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the California Highway Patrol, the incredible medical staffs who are caring for our injured personnel, the other agencies that assisted in this investigation, and the outpouring of love and support we have experienced from the community,” the department said.