SOUTH WHITTIER (CNS) - A motorist whose SUV swerved across a South Whittier roadway and slammed into a group of law enforcement recruits on a training run, injuring two dozen of them, was identified Thursday, and he remained jailed on suspicion of attempted murder on a peace officer.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, was being held in lieu of $2 million bail, according to jail records. He was booked at the sheriff's department Norwalk Station around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Gutierrez is accused of swerving his Honda CRV into a group of about 75 law enforcement cadets who were on a training 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 Sheriff Alex Villanueva compared to a plane crash.
The SUV then slammed into a light pole, which was knocked to the ground. The vehicle was reportedly going 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." Further details were not released.
All told, 25 recruits were injured, five with critical injuries, four with moderate injuries, and 16 with minor injuries. One of the critically injured recruits was on a ventilator, Villanueva said Wednesday.
The recruit who was on a ventilator was taken to Saint Francis Medical Center, and the 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.
The recruits were in the eighth week of their 22-week training program, Villanueva said.
Neighbors told reporters at the scene that recruits often run in groups through the neighborhoods near the academy.
The Los Angeles Times, citing an anonymous law enforcement source, reported that marijuana was found in the driver's vehicle, but it was unclear if he was actually under the influence of the drug at the time of the crash. Villanueva said Wednesday the driver was not drunk, with a Breathalyzer test finding no indication of alcohol in his system.
Various reports indicated that authorities served a search warrant at the driver's home Wednesday night.
Law enforcement agencies across the Southland quickly began sending words of support to the sheriff's department in response to the crash.
"We are praying for the LASD recruits involved in today's accident in Whittier," the Pomona Police Department tweeted.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said it was monitoring the unfolding situation.
"We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for the injured cadets and their families," the union tweeted.
The Sheriff's Relief Association -- which provides aid to department members during times of crisis -- began accepting donations from the public following the collision saying:
"In response to today's events affecting multiple recruits from LASD Academy, Class 464, the Sheriff's Relief Association is accepting donations from the public.
Please make checks payable to: Sheriff's Relief Foundation Memo: Class 464 Recruits and mail those checks to Sheriff's Relief Association 11515 Colima Road, Building B. Whittier, CA 90604"
The Sheriff's Relief Association is a 501(c)(3). You can also call them at 562-946-7081.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement she was "shocked to hear that a driver plowed into a group of young sheriff's academy cadets during their morning training run."
"These individuals represent the future of law enforcement, they have incredible courage and my utmost respect for wanting to serve their communities," Barger said. "I'm tracking this incident closely -- it's senseless and tragic. From the bottom of my heart, I am hoping no one was seriously hurt."
Supervisor Janice Hahn called the incident "a tragedy on so many levels."
"L.A. County has been making a concerted effort to recruit new deputies," she said. "These men and women answered our call, and were training this morning when they were struck down. I want to thank the L.A. County firefighters of Station 96 who heard the crash and rushed over to help, and the sheriff's deputies who responded to the scene.
"Their quick work to transport the injured to hospitals saved lives this morning, and is a testament to the strength of the county family. I'm praying that the futures of these recruits have not been cut short today."
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement, "Our hearts are with the Los Angeles County sheriff's recruits injured this morning while training to serve their communities. Jennifer and I send our best wishes for their recovery and stand with their loved ones and colleagues at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department during this difficult time."