A California police recruit who was among those struck by a wrong-way driver during an early morning run has experienced medical “setbacks” and is now considered gravely injured, sheriff’s office officials said.
One of the 25 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recruits struck by a wrong-way driver in Whittier last week “has suffered setbacks that have left him in grave condition,” the agency announced late Sunday. Four of the injured LASD recruits remain in critical condition at a local hospital, while the remaining victims have been released.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the driver, who was identified by police as 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, told Fox News on Sunday that Wednesday’s crash was “100% unintentional.”
Alexandra Kazarian, Gutierrez’s attorney, described her client as an electrical engineer who comes from a “proud law enforcement family.” She said her client leaves for work at 5 a.m.
Kazarian said that on Wednesday, Gutierrez had drifted off before the crash and then veered into the wrong lane.
The attorney denied claims that her client was ever interested in a career in law enforcement, but said his father is a retired corrections officer, and his relatives work for the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday that 75 recruits from Sheriff’s Academy Class 464 had been running near the intersection of Mills Avenue and Telegraph Road in Whittier, just before 6:30 a.m., when they were struck. The group was tailed by a pair of police vehicles, and some runners were wearing reflective vests.
The SUV then plowed into a light pole before coming to a stop.
“It happened so quickly that just the people that just saw it veer into them, they jumped out of the way, but the people behind had no chance, because they never saw it,” Villanueva said. “They didn’t have that sufficient warning.”
“There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injuries,” he said.
Gutierrez allegedly had a blood-alcohol content of zero, and a field sobriety test was negative for obvious impairment. Information regarding any drugs in his system was not immediately available.
Several recruits suffered injuries that varied from broken bones to head trauma and “loss of limb.”
Authorities charged Gutierrez last week with attempted murder of a peace officer(s), but released him hours later, citing the “extreme complexity” of the ongoing case.
“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,” the agency said in a press release announcing the change.
The charge of attempted murder of a peace officer requires evidence that the crime was intentional rather than that someone was mistaken or distracted or otherwise did not mean to commit the act.
According to local affiliate FOX 11 Los Angeles, Villanueva had previously said investigators had gathered enough to suspect intent.
“They did a thorough investigation. They interviewed dozens and dozens of witnesses and victims,” Villanueva said, according to the report. “That was the conclusion.”
The California Highway Patrol is also investigating the collision. Anyone with information related to the incident should call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.