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Deputies say driver intentionally hit law enforcement recruits in Whittier; release him citing insufficient evidence

Authorities release wrong-way driver who slammed into a group of law enforcement recruits
Authorities release wrong-way driver who slammed into a group of law enforcement recruits 02:32

The driver that plowed through dozens of Los Angeles County Sheriff's recruits did so intentionally, according to investigators. 

"They developed probable cause to believe it was intentional,"  Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an interview with NewsNation. 

Deputies later released the driver because they had "insufficient evidence." The department said they'll continue to investigate and may arrest him again. 

The Sheriff's Department has not released specific information as to why this crash is now believed to be intentional. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office wrote in a statement that they could not comment on the evidence in the case. 

"We have been in contact with LASD and CHP since the incident occurred," officials wrote. "They advised our office late yesterday that they would not be presenting a case at this time and that they would be releasing the suspect. We cannot comment on the evidence in this case as this is an ongoing investigation." 

The supervisor in charge of the case said this incident requires a complex investigation that involves documenting and analyzing the interview of more than 75 witnesses as well as processing multiple security videos — some of which are low quality. 

The California Highway Patrol is processing the onboard computer of the Honda SUV involved in the crash to determine the events leading up to the collision. 

Ten Los Angeles County sheriffs cadets were injured when a driver plowed into them.
Whittier, CA - November 16: Ten Los Angeles County sheriff's cadets were injured Wednesday morning when a driver plowed into them during a morning run in Whittier. The crash occurred near the sheriff's training academy, near Mills Avenue and Trumball Street on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 in Whittier, California. Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The SUV was reportedly driving on the wrong side of the road and swerved into a group of 75 cadets running. According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, 25 Sheriff's recruits were injured in the crash. All victims were taken to multiple hospitals in the area. Those with the worst injuries were taken to UC Irvine Medical Center and St. Francis Medical Center.

"Tragedy struck our department," said Villanueva during a news conference Wednesday.   

Five people were in critical condition, four suffered "moderate" injuries, and 14 suffered minor injuries, firefighters reported. 

The driver, identified by law enforcement as 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez of Diamond Bar, was detained near the scene of the crash. He was later arrested and booked on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer. He was being held without bail. 

The crash was reported at about 6:30 a.m. near Mills Avenue and Trumball Street. The recruits are with a class assigned to the STAR Explore Training Academy. 

Villanueva said the driver passed an alcohol breathalyzer test. 

He added the training class included recruits from various law enforcement agencies, and the group of injured trainees includes two each from the Bell and Glendale police departments and one from the Pasadena Police Department. The rest were all sheriff's department trainees.

Gutierrez's attorney Alexandra Kazarian said she expects the investigation will uncover that the crash was a tragic accident. 

"All we know at this point is that this is an awful tragedy and we are all wishing those injured a speedy recovery," the District Attorney's office wrote in a statement. "Beyond that we can't comment any further since the Sheriff has not presented a case to our office."

Legal Analyst Seve Meister said that charging Gutierrez for attempted murder of a peace officer would require strong evidence. 

"You're going to have to convince everyone, starting with the prosecutor, followed by a judge, followed by a jury," said Meister. "You better have your ducks in a row before you keep somebody locked up for something like that."

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