SOUTH WHITTIER, Calif. (KTLA) – Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the crash that injured 25 law enforcement recruits in South Whittier on 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.
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 evening under California penal code 849(B)(1), due to insufficient grounds to file charges.
“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 an updated news release Thursday. “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 South Whittier crash, although 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 around 6:30 a.m. The vehicle stopped after hitting a light pole.
A total of 25 recruits were injured, five of them critically.
The 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.
A reporter with Nexstar’s KTLA attempted to get answers from Gutierrez directly upon his return home on Thursday night, though he did not reply.
As of Thursday evening, seven recruits were still recovering or receiving treatment in the hospital, including two who remain in critical condition, according to Sheriff Villanueva.
“It was a bedlam, chaos, you know, there were bodies everywhere, bones sticking out and bleeding profusely. It was a pretty traumatic scene,” said Villanueva during a Thursday appearance on NewsNation’s “Dan Abrams Live.” “In fact, the paramedics that were there had never seen something of that scale. It was almost like an airplane accident, but everyone was alive, thankfully.”