Homicide detectives in Whittier, California, have released 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez hours after he plowed his car into a group of police recruits on training. According to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Nicholas on Wednesday morning crashed his SUV into 75 police recruits on a training exercise near Mills Avenue and Trumball Street in South Whittier.
The 75 recruits were from the Sheriff’s Academy Class 464 and were running about 6:30 a.m. that morning with two police vehicles escorting them when the incident happened. Villanueva said some of the young officers wore reflective jackets, and about 25 of them in the front were seriously injured after Nicholas drove into them.
“It happened so quickly that just the people that just saw it veer into them, they jumped out of the way, but the people behind had no chance because they never saw it,” Villanueva said. “They didn’t have that sufficient warning. There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injuries.”
Authorities said deputies from a nearby county fire station helped in transporting the wounded recruits to nearby hospitals. Some suffered broken bones, head trauma, and loss of limbs. As of Friday, seven of them were still in the hospital and two were in critical condition – one of them is on life support with serious bleeding and swelling in his brain.
Villanueva reported that Nicholas had been driving at about 30-40 miles per hour before crashing into the recruits and then a pole. The county official said the amount of alcohol in Nicholas’ blood was analyzed at the scene of the accident and it was zero, another field sobriety test was administered, and it was negative. The result of other likely drugs in his system has not been completed.
The sheriff disclosed that Nicholas was released from custody at 9:49 p.m. on that same day because investigators wanted to analyze wider evidence to determine if his offense was intentional. He said prosecutors wanted to build a stronger case against him, but they need to review more evidence before they can do so, hence his early release.
“Due to the extreme complexity of the investigation, which includes ongoing interviews, video surveillance review, and additional evidence needed to be analyzed, homicide investigators have released Mr. Gutierrez from the Sheriff’s Department custody,” the authorities said.
The sheriff said detectives are also going to serve search warrants on all of Nicholas’ social media accounts, as well as his smartphones and computers, to determine if he nursed any anti-police sentiments before the crash. Representing the young man, Alexander Kazarian, said he is confident that “an in-depth investigation will confirm that Nicholas is a hard-working young man who holds no animosity towards law enforcement, and this was an absolutely tragic accident.”