Nicholas Gutierrez, 22, was held on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer on a $2 million bond for driving his SUV into 25 cadets, leaving more than dozen injured and at least five in critical condition.
Authorities later provisionally released Gutierrez “until we can have the case iron clad, iron proof, and submitted to the DA for filing consideration,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told News Nation.
Villanueva also said that investigators went through an interview process with all parties involved in the incident and examined video surveillance and other physical evidence. He said that investigators had enough evidence to come to the conclusion that the crash was intentional.
“They were able to form the opinion that this was a deliberate act,” Villanueva said. “That is the conclusion we’ve arrived [at].”
“It’s not like they arrested the wrong suspect,” Deputy Deanna Mares told CNN. “They just want to make sure the investigation is going to be complete.”
The incident occurred about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles around 6:30 a.m. during a training exercise with about 75 recruits from the Sheriff’s Department and several local police agencies. The recruits were part of a 22-week program with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s S.T.A.R.S. Explorer Training Academy in South Whittier, California.
Initial reports suggested that the 22-year-old driver traveled the wrong way when the collision occurred.
The Los Angeles Times reported Gutierrez had marijuana in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
Villanueva confirmed in a press conference reported by The New York Times that the driver, who only suffered minor injuries, had passed a field sobriety test.
According to Villanueva, seven recruits remain in the hospital, with two in critical condition and multiple leg fractures. He said authorities’ biggest concern is one of the recruits is on life support and suffering from serious brain bleeding and swelling.
“They have a long road to recovery happen to them, and we’re just hoping and praying that they can pull through,” he told News Nation.
Villanueva said that five recruits are still under observation, and the remaining 20 have been released to their families.
“It was a bedlam, chaos, you know, there were bodies everywhere, bones sticking out and bleeding profusely. It was a pretty traumatic scene,” Villanueva said. “In fact, the paramedics that were there had never seen something of that scale. It was almost like an airplane accident, but everyone was alive, thankfully.”
KTLA reporters confronted Gutierrez on Thursday night when he returned home after authorities released him. The suspect refused to respond to reporters when pressed for answers about his actions.