The 22-year-old driver who crashed into 25 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s recruits last week denied authorities’ claims that investigators had enough evidence to prove the incident was a deliberate act.
Nicholas Gutierrez was held on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer on a $2 million bond for driving his Honda CR-V into 25 cadets about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 16. around 6:30 a.m. during a training exercise with about 75 recruits from the Sheriff’s Department and several local police agencies.
The horrific crash left more than a dozen cadets injured and at least five in critical condition.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said they later provisionally released Gutierrez because the initial complaint was not enough to hold him in custody.
In an interview with NBC, Guiterrez refuted claims made by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said investigators had enough evidence to conclude that the crash was intentional.
“I didn’t intentionally do it,” Gutierrez said, adding that he fell asleep on his way to work.
Gutierrez said he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up to the sound of recruits banging on the windows.
“I wish it never happened,” he added. “I feel bad it happened.”
In the interview, Gutierrez had injuries to his face that were suffered at the scene, which he claimed were sustained when the sheriff’s “dragged” him out of the car when he woke up from the impact.
The sheriff’s department declined to comment or elaborate.
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. At the time of the crash, the cadets ran in four rows while drill instructors and two black-and-white radio cars accompanied them.
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 five recruits are still under observation, and the remaining 20 have been released to their families.
The suspect’s lawyer, Alexandra Kazarian, told The Los Angeles Times, Guiterrez fell asleep at the wheel while on his way to work, calling it a “tragic accident.”
Kazarian also denied the preliminary investigation from Villanueva, saying there is no evidence suggesting it was intentional.
“I have no idea why the sheriff said that,” Kazarian said.
Gutierrez’s attorney issued a statement Friday to NBC saying Gutierrez comes from a law enforcement family. According to the Los Angeles Times, his father is a retired corrections officer. His uncles work in the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the Sheriff’s Department.
“Nicholas comes from a proud law enforcement family, and the injuries to these recruits is beyond heartbreaking,” attorney Alexandra Kazarian said. “The Gutierrez family appreciates the Sheriff’s Department taking the time to conduct a full and complete investigation. As many have asked, we want to emphasize that Nicholas was on his way to work and had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of this tragic accident.”
Kazarian said Gutierrez “harbors absolutely no animosity toward law enforcement,” adding claims that her client was a disgruntled academy recruit or had any association with being a recruit were incorrect.