Driver arrested after mowing down group of law enforcement recruits in Los Angeles area, injuring 25, released from jail
A man who was arrested for allegedly driving a vehicle into a group of law enforcement recruits in Whittier, California, was released from jail Thursday night, but the sheriff’s department insists they did nothing wrong.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was released from custody at 9:49 p.m., according to jail records, citing an insufficient complaint.
Gutierrez remains a suspect in the case, and the decision to release him was made because investigators want more time to gather evidence to present to the district attorney’s office for charges, not because they believe a mistake was made, the spokesman said. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s not like they arrested the wrong suspect,” Deputy Deanna Mares told CNN late Thursday night. “They just want to make sure the investigation is complete.”
The sheriff’s department is usually required to present a case to prosecutors within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest, and they were unwilling to do so in Gutierrez’s case, Mares said.
Twenty-five recruits from multiple law enforcement agencies were injured Wednesday when a vehicle plowed into the group, an incident that Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially called a “horrific accident.” That characterization changed dramatically Thursday morning, when the department announced the arrest of Gutierrez on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers.
The sheriff’s department initially said they intended to present the case to the DA’s office on Friday. The department did not give a new schedule for the presentation of the case on Thursday.
CNN spoke to Alexandra Kazarian, Gutierrez’s attorney, on Friday. She said CNN affiliate KABC Thursday, “I have no doubt that a thorough investigation will confirm that Nicholas is a hard-working young man who has no animosity toward the police, and this was an absolutely tragic accident.”
Gutierrez was booked Wednesday afternoon, according to inmate records. He was alone in the vehicle at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s department told CNN.
The five injured cadets are in critical condition, the authorities said. Four other recruits suffered moderate injuries, while 16 others suffered minor injuries, the sheriff’s office said in an initial press release.
Gutierrez also suffered minor injuries, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Sheila Kelliher said. All were transferred to local hospitals and there is no information on the condition of the injured for now.
The case remains under investigation and additional charges are pending, the sheriff’s office said. CNN has reached out to the attorney general’s office and the California Highway Patrol, which is investigating the crash, for further details.
Officials initially said the crash appeared to be a “horrific accident,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Wednesday.
The wrong-way driver showed no signs of impairment, Villanueva said, and failed a breathalyzer test administered at the scene. No skid marks were visible at the crash site, the sheriff said.
“It looked like a plane wreck – so many bodies scattered everywhere in various states of injury,” Villanueva said from the scene. “It was quite traumatic for all individuals.”
Kelliher initially said all the recruits were from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But according to Villanueva, recruits from the LA Sheriff’s Department were among the injured, along with the Pasadena, Glendale and Bell police departments. Recruits from the El Segundo and UCLA police departments were also present but were not injured.
The 75 recruits, all wearing white T-shirts and green shorts, were on what Capt. Ted McDonald of the sheriff’s department’s training bureau described as a “typical run” as part of a 22-week training course. They were escorted by two security vehicles and were running in four lines when they were hit, McDonald said.
The accident happened about 500 meters from the fire station, officials said. The four most seriously injured patients were immediately taken to the hospital, Los Angeles Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said, possibly saving their lives.
Kelliher said the incident was “difficult to see because these young people are about to put their careers on the line. And who knows that while you’re training for it, you’re actually in danger.”
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