A man accused of driving into a law enforcement recruitment drive in Whittier, California, was released from jail Thursday night, but the sheriff’s department insists they were not at fault.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was released from custody at 9:49 p.m., citing an insufficient complaint, according to jail records.
Gutierrez is still considered a suspect in the case, and the decision to release him was made because investigators needed more time to gather evidence for charges in the district attorney’s office, not because they believed wrongdoing, the spokesman said. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s not like they arrested the wrong suspect,” Deputy Deanna Mares told CNN Thursday night. “They want to make sure the investigation is complete.”
Mares said the sheriff’s department is usually required to submit a case to the DA within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest, and in Gutierrez’s case they weren’t ready to do that.
Twenty-five recruits from multiple law enforcement agencies were injured Wednesday when a vehicle plowed into the group, in what Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially called “a terrible accident.” That characterization changed dramatically Thursday morning, when the department announced that Gutierrez had been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers.
The sheriff’s department initially said it intended to present the case to the DA’s office on Friday. The department did not provide a new timetable for filing the case on Thursday.
CNN reached out to Gutierrez’s attorney, Alexandra Kazarian, on Friday. she said CNN affiliate KABC Thursday, “I have no doubt that a thorough investigation will confirm that Nicholas was a hard-working young man who had no animosity toward law enforcement and this was an absolutely tragic accident.”
Gutierrez was booked Wednesday afternoon, according to inmate records. She was alone in the vehicle at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s department told CNN.
Officials said five cadets were listed in critical condition among the injured. Four other recruits suffered moderate injuries, and 16 suffered minor injuries, the sheriff’s office said in an initial news release.
Gutierrez also suffered minor injuries, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Sheila Kelliher said. All were taken to local hospitals and no information was provided on the condition of the injured.
The case remains under investigation and additional charges are pending, the sheriff’s office said. CNN reached out to the DA’s office and the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation into the crash, for more details.
Authorities initially called the crash “a horrific accident,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Wednesday.
Villanueva said the wrong-way driver was unharmed and tested zero on a breathalyzer test administered at the scene. The sheriff said no skids were visible at the scene of the crash.
“It looked like a plane wreck – so many bodies scattered all over the place in different stages of injury,” said Villanueva of the scene. “It was very traumatic for all individuals.”
Kelliher initially said all of the recruits were from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But according to Villanueva, among the injured were those employed by the LA Sheriff’s Department in Pasadena, Glendale and Bell Police Departments. Recruits from the El Segundo and UCLA police departments were also present but were not injured.
The 75 recruits, all dressed in white T-shirts and green shorts, were part of what Capt. Ted MacDonald of the Sheriff’s Department Training Bureau described as a “regular run” as part of the department’s 22-week training course. They were accompanied by two security vehicles and were running in four lanes when they were hit, McDonald said.
Officials said the accident happened about 500 feet from the fire station. Four critically injured patients were rushed to the hospital, which Los Angeles Fire Chief Anthony Maron said may have saved their lives.
Kelliher said it’s hard to watch this incident because these young people are preparing to put themselves at risk in their lives. Who knows, you might actually be in harm’s way when you’re training to do that.
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