In an incident that the Los Angeles County Fire Department called, after they responded, a “mass casualty event,” 25 law-enforcement recruits were badly injured when a car struck them while they were running in the morning.
Seventy-five students who were part of the STAR Explore Training Academy were running down Mills Avenue in South Whittier (just outside of the Los Angeles city limits) when a vehicle traveling in the wrong direction struck the students. Five of the injured are being treated for serious injuries.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced in an update that five people were in critical condition, including one who is being treated with a ventilator. Four of the victims sustained moderate injuries, while 16 recruits suffered minor injuries. All wounded recruits were transported to nearby hospitals. Some of the most serious injuries included head traumas, broken bones, and the loss of limbs, he said.
“We're just facing some life-altering injuries for some [of the] most severely injured recruits,” Villanueva stated.
Authorities have confirmed that they have arrested the driver, 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez. The Diamond Bar man is facing several charges, which include attempted murder. Although marijuana was discovered inside the vehicle, Gutierrez passed the initial field sobriety test.
Los Angeles news outlet KTLA reported that the driver swerved towards the opposite side of the street, striking the recruits. Security camera footage gathered from KTLA depicted the vehicle speeding in the opposite direction of travel and then directly into the group of 75 students who were part of the STARS Center Academy and running along Mills Avenue around 6:30 A.M. The vehicle stopped after striking a pole.
The driver was said by witnesses to be traveling at a speed of 30 to 40 miles per hour and was not observed slowing down, swerving, or attempting 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 explained to KTLA. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to. But they were able to open the door and get the driver out and detain him.”
Villanueva said the incident was “very, very odd,” noting that he'd never seen anything similar to it occur before.
Gutierrez is still in jail, with bail set at $2 million.