By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Deputy Alejandro Martinez died in the line of duty on Friday, eight months after he and 24 of his fellow law enforcement academy recruits were hit by a wrong-way driver while they were out for a group run in Whittier.
The 27-year-old deputy suffered compound femur fractures, brain swelling, damage to multiple organs, and a collapsed lung as a result of the crash, resulting in him being placed on a ventilator, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He remained hospitalized until his death eight months later.
Deputy Martinez was surrounded by his friends, family, fellow officers, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna when he passed away at UCLA Ronald Reagan hospital just before 7 p.m. on July 29, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Our condolences go out to Alejandro’s family, friends, and academy classmates,” the LASD said in a statement on Friday night. “He will forever live in our hearts & never be forgotten.”
The catastrophic crash occurred at approximately 6:25 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2022, near the intersection of Telegraph Road and Mills Avenue in Whittier, KTTV reported.
Investigators said 22-year-old Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, who claimed he fell asleep at the wheel, was traveling between 30 and 40 miles per hour when he inexplicably veered into the wrong lane and slammed headlong into 25 of the 75 members of LASD Academy Class 464.
Five of the 25 injured recruits who were transported to the hospital were listed in critical condition, the Independent reported.
At least two recruits had to be airlifted due to life-threatening injuries, KNBC reported.
Then-Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said multiple broken bones, head trauma, and a “loss of limb” were among the catastrophic injuries the recruits suffered.
“There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved,” the sheriff told reporters.
Twenty of the recruits were with the LASD, two were with Bell Police Department, two were with the Glendale Police Department, and one was with the Pasadena Police Department, KTTV reported.
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.
He was abruptly released from custody within days after authorities questioned investigative conclusions that the crash was intentional, Sheriff Villanueva told KTTV at the time.
“[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.
Twelve of the 25 recruits who were struck by the SUV suffered injuries that ended their law enforcement careers, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The investigation into the deadly crash remains ongoing.
“The CHP continues to actively conduct a fair and impartial investigation to determine the cause of the crash and Gutierrez’s criminal culpability,” the California Highway Patrol said in a statement to KABC on Saturday. “Currently, there are no further updates to provide.”
Deputy Martinez, a South Central Los Angeles native, graduated from Cal State Northridge and joined the Army National Guard prior to being hired by the LASD two months before the crash, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“He was a great recruit,” Academy Instructor Victor Rodriguez said. “He wasn’t one to draw attention to himself, which spoke volumes. He had this maturity, this life experience. He was an example of a recruit for other ones that are new to this type of career, new to this structure.”
Deputy Martinez was sworn in as a full deputy one weekend after the collision, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“All [Martinez] ever wanted to do was be a deputy sheriff,” LASD Training Bureau Captain Pat Macdonald said. “He dedicated his life to serving the country and more specifically his community.”
Deputy Martinez leaves behind his parents, Arturo and Olga Martinez, and his sister, Dianna, according to the Whittier Daily News.
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) July 29, 2023
🔹 Blessed Are The Peacemakers 🔹
Deputy Sheriff Alejandro Martinez
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, California
— National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (@GLFOP) July 30, 2023
Rest In Peace: Deputy Sheriff Alejandro Martinez. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA. E.O.W: Friday, July 28, 2023. @LACoSheriff @LASDHQ @PoliceOne @ODMP #BlueLivesMatter #officerdown pic.twitter.com/8wJKgzA38R
— R Cook (@retiredNCSHP) July 30, 2023
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Alejandro Martinez, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.