By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Whittier, CA – The 22-year-old man who was allegedly high on drugs when he plowed his SUV into 75 sheriff’s department recruits while they were out on their morning run on Wednesday has been released from custody and is back on the streets, according to the sheriff.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was taken into custody immediately after his SUV plowed headlong into approximately 25 members of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Academy Class 464 at about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, KTTV reported.
Dozens of the recruits were run over by the speeding vehicle, which was traveling on the wrong side of the road.
Investigators estimated Gutierrez was traveling 30-to-40 miles per hour when he slammed into the group of runners, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Five of the 25 injured recruits who were transported to the hospital were listed in critical condition, the Independent reported.
One recruit was on a ventilator, Forbes reported.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said there were multiple broken bones, head trauma, and a “loss of limb.”
At least two recruits had to be airlifted due to life-threatening injuries, KNBC reported.
“There was so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved,” the sheriff told reporters.
Sheriff Villanueva said there were no skid marks to evidence the driver had tried to stop, KNBC reported.
The incident was also captured by a nearby security camera.
Gutierrez was taken into custody near the scene and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer, CBS News reported.
Investigators said they also believe the suspect was under the influence of an unspecified recreational drug at the time of the crash, according to KTTV.
He was initially being held without bail.
But shortly before 10 p.m. on Thursday, he was abruptly released from custody, KTTV reported.
Sheriff Villanueva said authorities questioned investigative conclusions that the crash was intentional.
“[Investigators] developed probable cause to believe it was intentional,” he said, according to CBS News.
“They did a thorough investigation. They interviewed dozens and dozens of witnesses and victims. That was the conclusion,” the sheriff told KTTV.
It is unclear what additional evidence would be required to justify keeping the suspect behind bars.
25 law enforcement recruits out jogging in Los Angeles County this morning were run over Darrel Brooks-style by a speeding vehicle. A suspect name has not yet been released. pic.twitter.com/PiFrshxQsb
— Andy Ngô 🏳️🌈 (@MrAndyNgo) November 17, 2022
Gutierrez is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, KTTV reported.
He may face additional charges as the investigation continues, according to the news outlet.
The names of the 25 recruits who were injured in the horrific crash were not immediately released.
Twenty of the recruits are with the LASD, two are with Bell Police Department, two are with the Glendale Police Department, and one is with the Pasadena Police Department, KTTV reported.
Sheriff Villanueva said some of those victims face a very long road to recovery.
Authorities said the recruits were running in four columns with eight road guards who were all wearing reflective high-visibility vests running on the outside edges of their group.
The recruits were wearing green shorts and bright white t-shirts, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Residents said they are used to hearing the recruits calling cadence as the sheriff’s deputy candidates attending the Sheriff’s Training Academy and Regional Services (STARS) Center about a mile away run by their homes in the morning.
Newly-released surveillance video from across the street from the crash showed the recruits running in the front of the group barely had a split-second to react when they saw the SUV veer toward them.
Some of the recruits in the front were able to dive out of the way before they were hit, the video showed.
But Sheriff Villanueva said the others in the column behind them never saw the vehicle coming, KNBC reported.
“It happened so quickly,” Sheriff Villanueva said at a media briefing. “They jumped out of the way, but the people behind had no chance. They never saw it.”
The video showed the SUV plowed into the sheriff’s department recruits at full speed.
“They had zero warning,” LASD Captain Pat MacDonald told reporters. “Thank God for that light pole because the vehicle ultimately hit it and stopped as opposed to possibly hitting more recruits.”
The vehicle ran over about one-third of the recruits before it slammed into a pole and stopped.
The car erupted in flames and smoke covered the chaotic scene as those who were not injured rushed to help the fallen recruits.
Less than a block away, first responders at Los Angeles County Fire Station 96 heard the loud crash of the SUV striking the pole and ran outside to see what had happened, KNBC reported.
“After they heard the accident, they immediately responded with 20 response vehicles,” LA County Fire Captain Sheila Kelliher told reporters.
“We had a ton of resources on scene, and it was amazing to watch those patients get off-scene as quickly as they did,” Kelliher said.