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Investigators Looking Into Whether Whittier Crash Injuring 25 Recruits Was Intentional

New details emerged Thursday about the man accused of driving his SUV into a group of recruits, mostly from the LA County Sheriff’s Department, including that it may have been an intentional act.

Sheriffs investigators have now searched his home, and he’s been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Prosecutors are reviewing the evidence for potential criminal charges against him.

The sheriff’s department says the man they arrested is 22-year-old Nicholas Gutierrez from Diamond Bar.

Gutierrez was detained at the scene of the crash.

The sheriff’s department said a DUI breath and field sobriety test administered at the scene did not indicate the driver was under the influence of alcohol.

Initially, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday it appeared to be “a horrific accident.”

The sheriff’s department is now saying Thursday he drove onto the wrong side of the road and into the recruits on purpose.

The 75 recruits were running northbound on Mills Avenue when a southbound SUV veered into their path, traveling the wrong way on the neighborhood street at an estimated 30 to 40 mph. Video from a camera on a resident’s property shows the Honda CRV headed toward the four columns of recruits, all dressed in white shirts as they jogged in formation on the side of the street.

Most of the trainees were LA County Sheriff’s recruits, but some were from Pasadena, Glendale, and Bellflower.

The victims suffered head injuries broken bones and loss of limbs, Villanueva said at a Wednesday news conference. One victim was on a ventilator, Villanueva said.

NCBLA’s law enforcement sources say Gutierrez made a statement to the recruits as he was being pulled out of wrecked car, but the sources cautioned that statement could be interpreted in several ways.

NBCLA learned Gutierrez was driving an unfamiliar route that morning and following a map application on his cellphone.

Another driver reported they thought they might have seen him dozing off before about a mile away from the crash.

Sheriff Villanueva said Thursday night that detectives have “provided probable cause” to believe that the wreck was intentional.

It’s not clear what that evidence is.

If Gutierrez is charged, he’d likely make an initial appearance in court Friday. At last check, he was being held with no bail at the Twin Towers Jail in downtown LA.

The recruits are part of a training program at the nearby S.T.A.R.S. Center is located in the 11000 bock of Colima Road in Whittier. The S.T.A.R.S. Center is one of two pre-academy training sites in Los Angeles County.

Witnesses said the recruits often train in the neighborhood.

The programs include physical training and academic sessions. Participation in the program is voluntary and not required to become a sheriff’s deputy trainee.

The California Highway Patrol asked anyone with information about the crash to contact investigators at 562-868-0503.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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