In an event Los Angeles County Fire Department described as a possible “mass casualty event” as they responded, twenty-five law enforcement recruits were seriously injured when a vehicle struck them during their morning jog.
A group of seventy-five recruits from the STAR Explore Training Academy were jogging along Mills Avenue in South Whittier (just outside the city of Los Angeles) when an SUV traveling the wrong way slammed into the trainees. Five of the victims are currently reported in serious condition.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an update five people were in critical condition, one of which is on a ventilator. Four people suffered moderate injuries and 16 of the recruits had minor injuries. All injured recruits were taken to nearby hospitals. Some of the most severe injuries included head trauma, broken bones and loss of limbs, he added.
“We’re just facing some life-altering injuries for some most severely injured recruits,” Villanueva said.
Authorities confirmed Thursday that they arrested the driver, 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez. The Diamond Bar man is facing a slew of charges, including attempted murder. While some marijuana was found in the vehicle, Gutierrez passed an initial field sobriety test.
Los Angeles news outlet KTLA indicates the driver decisively veered to the other side of the street and hit the recruits.
Security camera video obtained by KTLA shows the SUV veering into the opposite lanes of travel and directly into a group of 75 recruits from the STARS Center Academy who were jogging on Mills Avenue around 6:30 a.m. The vehicle stopped after hitting a pole.
Witnesses say the driver appeared to be going 30-40 miles per hour and did not appear to swerve or attempt to brake.
“The driver still had (his foot) on the accelerator, so my boyfriend had to break the glass or the window open to try to get him to stop,” one woman told KTLA. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to. But they were able to open the door and get the driver out and detain him.”
Villanueva called the incident “very, very odd,” saying he’d never heard of anything like it happening before.
Gutierrez remains in custody on $2 million dollars bail.