An attorney for the man who swerved his SUV into the group of police cadets, including one from Pasadena, said the crash was an accident caused when the man fell asleep behind the wheel. Attorney Alexandra Kazarian told Los Angeles Magazine that Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, comes from a law enforcement family and has “zero animosity toward law enforcement.”
“Homicide investigators have no evidence whatsoever to say this was intentional,” Kazarian told the magazine, disputing claims last week by Sheriff Alex Villanueva that the crash appeared to be an intentional act.
Kazarian noted that Gutierrez is the son of a retired corrections officer, and he has brothers and cousins who are in law enforcement.
“He is a hard-working young man who lives with his parents and installs solar panels for a living,” Kazarian told LA Magazine.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez spoke out for the first time since the crash.
“I fell asleep at the wheel,” Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, told NBC4. “I woke up to the sound of (recruits) banging on the windows.”
One of the cadets has suffered medical setbacks and is in “grave condition” and on life support, sheriff’s officials said Monday.
The cadet was identified as Alejandro Martinez by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Information Bureau, which asked the public to “keep him and his family in your prayers.”
Aside from the cadet in grave condition, three others remain in critical condition, while the rest of the more than two dozen trainees who were injured in the Wednesday morning crash have been released from hospitals, according to the sheriff’s department.
The cadets were injured when a Honda CRV swerved into a group of about 75 law enforcement trainees who were on an organized run around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue, near Telegraph Road, just blocks from the sheriff’s STARS Explorer Academy law enforcement training center.
Sheriff’s officials said the group of recruits was running in columns northbound on the roadway when the southbound SUV swerved to the opposite side of the road and plowed into the trainees, leaving a trail of injured bodies that Villanueva compared to a plane crash.
The SUV then slammed into a light pole, which was knocked to the ground. The vehicle was estimated to be traveling at about 30-40 mph at the time, authorities said.
A law enforcement vehicle was behind the runners for traffic control, but there was no vehicle in front of them. The first runners managed to avoid being hit by the oncoming SUV, which plowed into those behind them, authorities said.
Villanueva said the most serious injuries included head trauma, broken bones, and “loss of limb.”
All told, 25 recruits were injured. One of the critically injured recruits was on a ventilator, Villanueva said Wednesday. That recruit was taken to Saint Francis Medical Center, and the other recruits with the worst injuries were taken to UC Irvine Medical Center, officials said.
Villanueva said the training class included recruits from the sheriff’s department and various other law enforcement agencies, and those who were injured included two each from the Bell and Glendale police departments and one from the Pasadena Police Department. The rest were all sheriff’s department trainees.
Villanueva on Wednesday indicated the crash initially appeared to be a tragic accident, noting that the motorist did not appear to be drunk, with a Breathalyzer test finding no signs of alcohol in his system. But he said Thursday that the driver appeared to run into the group on purpose.
“They (investigators) went through an exhaustive interview process with everyone involved,” Villanueva said during an appearance on NewsNation. “With video surveillance, statements from recruits, the physical evidence they have, and what they got from the suspect himself, they were able to form the opinion that this was a deliberate act.”
Gutierrez was released from jail shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday, according to the sheriff’s department, which cited the extreme complexity of the investigation and the need to continue gathering evidence.
Gutierrez had been in custody on $2 million bail on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer.
State law only allows authorities to hold a suspect in custody for 48 hours unless criminal charges are filed by prosecutors.
Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Meza told City News Service that investigators “want to be sure that we have a more complete and accurate case to present to the district attorney.”