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Whittier crash: Law enforcement recruits receiving treatment at local hospitals; five critical

Critically wounded cadet on ventilator at St. Francis Medical Center
Critically wounded cadet on ventilator at St. Francis Medical Center 02:41

More than two dozen local law enforcement recruits were struck by a wrong-way driver as they were out on a run early Wednesday morning in Whittier, leaving several in critical condition. 

According to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, 75 recruits had just started a training run when the crash occurred. He said they had zero warning before impact.

As the car barreled towards the recruits, the ones at the front were able to jump out of the way, but the driver continued through the group causing severe injury. In all, 25 people were injured.

"As soon as the accident happened, the chaos that ensued, they said it looked like an airplane wreck," said Sheriff Alex Villanueva. "There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved."

The group consisted of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department cadets and recruits from Bell Police Department, Glendale Police Department and Pasadena Police Department. 25 of the injured are believed to be LASD cadets. 

Of the 25 injured, 16 are being treated for minor injuries, while four are said to have suffered moderate injuries. 

Several recruits were airlifted to various medical centers. Their family and friends stopped by the crash site and the medical centers to support those injured. 

"I want to support them," said Olga D'Ambrosio, a mother of one of the LASD recruits caught in the crash. "I want to show our love and support that they're not alone and that we are here for them."

D'Ambrosio held back tears as she talked about how a seemingly insignificant change supposedly saved her 22-year-old son's life. 

"He usually runs on the outside part of the team," she said. "He had moved to the inside part and he was struck to know that move apparently saved his life."

Five remain in critical condition, with injuries that include loss of limbs and head trauma. Recruits were sent to a slew of Southland hospitals, including Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, Whittier Presbyterian Hospital and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Those with the worst injuries were rushed to UC Irvine Medical Center, with one recruit, who is said to be on a ventilator, being cared for at Saint Francis Medical Center.

"There were three trauma surgeons who were readily available when the patients arrived here," said Dr. Jeffrey Nahmais, a UCI trauma surgeon. "As well as countless other nurses, other extenders and people to help with the care of all these patients."

Whittier community provides outpouring of support for recruits injured in wrong-way driver crash 02:34

"What they have going in their favor is that they are all young, able-bodied, and in good health. Lord willing, they will be able to recover," Villanueva said. "Even the one who is in the most critical state at St. Francis ... they're just going to have a long road to recovery." 

They are in the eighth week of their 22-week training program, Villanueva said.

The cause of the crash has yet to be determined, and investigators said it was much too early to tell whether the incident was intentional or an accident. 

The 22-year-old driver, from Diamond Bar, was also hospitalized for injuries sustained during the crash. Authorities served a search warrant at the driver's home Wednesday night.

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