More than two dozen law enforcement recruits were injured, five critically, when they were hit by an SUV while running in formation Wednesday morning near the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s training center in South Whittier.
The motorist, a 22-year-old Diamond Bar man, was taken into custody by authorities near the scene of the crash, which was reported at about 6:30 a.m. in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue. Authorities said the SUV swerved into the runners while heading in the opposite direction and wound up crashing into a light pole, which was knocked to the ground by the impact.
Paramedics set up a triage area at the scene, and transported the injured victims for hospital treatment, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said 25 recruits were injured, five with critical injuries, four with moderate injuries, and 16 with minor injuries. One of the critically injured recruits was on a ventilator, the sheriff said.
The driver of the SUV also suffered minor injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The crash occurred near the sheriff’s STARS Explorer Academy, which is in the 11500 block of Colima Road. Neighbors told reporters at the scene that recruits often run in groups through the neighborhoods near the academy.
At a Wednesday morning briefing several hours after the crash, Villanueva said the driver was not drunk at the time, based on a Breathalyzer test, which showed him with no alcohol in his system.
The case was being investigated by the California Highway Patrol.
“It looks like it’s an accident — a horrific accident,” Villanueva said.
The vehicle were reportedly going about 30-40 mph at the time, authorities said.
Villanueva said the 75-member training class included recruits from the sheriff’s department and various other law enforcement agencies, and those who were injured included two each from the Bell and Glendale police departments and one from the Pasadena Police Department. The rest were all sheriff’s department trainees.
Sheriff’s officials said the group was running in columns northbound on the roadway when an SUV going southbound struck them and then hit a light pole and stopped. A law enforcement vehicle was behind the runners for traffic control, but there was no law enforcement vehicle in front of them. The first runners managed to avoid being hit by the vehicle, which plowed into those behind them, authorities said.
Villanueva said the most serious injuries included head trauma, broken bones, and “loss of limb.” Further details were not released.
The recruits were in the eighth week of their 22-week training program, Villanueva said.
Law enforcement agencies across the Southland quickly began sending words of support to the sheriff’s department in response to the crash.
“We are praying for the LASD recruits involved in today’s accident in Whittier,” the Pomona Police Department tweeted.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said it was monitoring the unfolding situation.
“We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for the injured cadets and their families,” the union tweeted.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement saying, “I am shocked to hear that a driver plowed into a group of young sheriff’s academy cadets during their morning training run. These individuals represent the future of law enforcement, they have incredible courage and my utmost respect for wanting to serve their communities. I’m tracking this incident closely — it’s senseless and tragic. From the bottom of my heart, I am hoping no one was seriously hurt.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn called the incident “a tragedy on so many levels.”
“L.A. County has been making a concerted effort to recruit new deputies,” she said. “These men and women answered our call, and were training this morning when they were struck down. I want to thank the L.A. County firefighters of Station 96 who heard the crash and rushed over to help, and the sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene. Their quick work to transport the injured to hospitals saved lives this morning, and is a testament to the strength of the county family. I’m praying that the futures of these recruits have not been cut short today.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued a statement: “Our hearts are with the Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits injured this morning while training to serve their communities. Jennifer and I send our best wishes for their recovery and stand with their loved ones and colleagues at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department during this difficult time,” he said.