The man suspected of swerving his SUV into a group of law enforcement cadets on a training run in South Whittier, injuring two dozen of them, was free from custody Friday, with sheriff’s officials citing the extreme complexity of the investigation and the need to continue gathering evidence.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, was released from jail shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday, according to the sheriff’s department. He had been in custody on $2 million bail on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer.
In a statement, sheriff’s officials cited “the extreme complexity of the investigation, which includes ongoing interviews, video surveillance review, and additional evidence needed to be analyzed.”
“Homicide investigators, along with California Highway Patrol investigators, will continue to pursue all evidence relevant to this matter until a thorough investigation is complete,” according to the sheriff’s department.
State law only allows authorities to hold a suspect in custody for 48 hours unless criminal charges are filed by prosecutors. That 48-hour window for Gutierrez — who was arrested hours after Wednesday morning’s crash — was set to expire Friday.
Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Meza told City News Service that investigators “want to be sure that we have a more complete and accurate case to present to the district attorney.”
Gutierrez is accused of swerving his Honda CRV into a group of about 75 law enforcement cadets who were on a training run around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue, near Telegraph Road, just blocks from the sheriff’s STARS Explorer Academy law enforcement training center.
Sheriff’s officials said the group of recruits was running in columns northbound on the roadway when the southbound SUV swerved to the opposite side of the road and plowed into the trainees, leaving a trail of injured bodies that Sheriff Alex Villanueva compared to a plane crash.
The SUV then slammed into a light pole, which was knocked to the ground. The vehicle was estimated to be traveling at about 30-40 mph at the time, authorities said.
A law enforcement vehicle was behind the runners for traffic control, but there was no vehicle in front of them. The first runners managed to avoid being hit by the oncoming SUV, 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.
All told, 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, Villanueva said Wednesday.
The recruit who was on a ventilator was taken to Saint Francis Medical Center, and the recruits with the worst injuries were taken to UC Irvine Medical Center, officials said.
Villanueva said the 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.
The recruits were in the eighth week of their 22-week training program, Villanueva said.
Villanueva on Wednesday indicated the crash initially appeared to be a tragic accident, noting that the motorist did not appear to be drunk, with a Breathalyzer test finding no signs of alcohol in his system. But he said Thursday Gutierrez allegedly ran into the group of cadets on purpose.
“They (investigators) went through an exhaustive interview process with everyone involved,” Villanueva said during an appearance on NewsNation. “With video surveillance, statements from recruits, the physical evidence they have, and what they got from the suspect himself, they were able to form the opinion that this was a deliberate act.”
No other details were immediately released.
The sheriff noted that when law enforcement reached the driver following the crash, Gutierrez’s foot was still on the accelerator. Various media reports indicated that deputies found marijuana inside the vehicle, although it was unclear if the driver was under the influence at the time.
The Sheriffs’ Relief Association — which provides aid to department members during times of crisis — is accepting donations from the public to support the injured recruits. People who wish to donate can write checks payable to the Sheriffs Relief Foundation, with “Class 464 Recruits” on the memo line, and send them to the association at 11515 Colima Road, Building B Whittier, CA 90604.