LOS ANGELES — Authorities have arrested a 22-year-old driver on suspicion of attempted murder for allegedly plowing his vehicle into Los Angeles County sheriff’s academy recruits on a training run, injuring more than two dozen people.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Thursday that Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was arrested Wednesday for investigation of attempted murder on a peace officer.
Authorities have said that a man driving an SUV early Wednesday veered onto the wrong side of the road in suburban Whittier, crashing into recruits on a morning run. Five of them were critically injured.
The scene after the crash was chaotic, and authorities said it looked like an airplane wreck. Deputies got help from a nearby county fire station and immediately transported some of the most badly injured directly to hospitals.
Authorities said a field sobriety test performed on the driver was negative.
Online jail records show Gutierrez is scheduled to appear in court on Friday. It’s not immediately known whether Gutierrez has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
There were about 75 recruits from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and several local police agencies running in formation in the street just before 6:30 a.m. when the crash occurred. They were wearing white T-shirts and green shorts, and accompanied by two black-and-white radio cars and eight road guards donning reflective vests as a safety precaution, sheriff’s authorities said.
Sheriff’s authorities have not yet presented their case against Gutierrez to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for prosecution and said they expect to do so on Friday.
Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, a defense attorney who previously worked as a prosecutor in nearby Riverside County, said to file an attempted murder charge prosecutors would need to prove Gutierrez had an intent to kill.
“There is a high bar to prove it, to show this guy was trying to kill these cadets,” he said. He said evidence obtained from the vehicle could be critical, adding that a key question is whether the driver applied the brakes as the vehicle moved toward the recruits.
“If he is slamming on the brakes and realizes he is doing something wrong it is very different than if he is pressing on the gas,” he said.