The driver who ran over a group of law enforcement recruits in Whittier, California, was asleep at the wheel, according to the driver’s attorney. In a recent statement, the attorney said the 22-year-old driver, Nicholas Guttierez, was on his way to work the morning of November 16 when he fell asleep behind the wheel of a Honda CR-V and drove into the group of Los Angeles County sheriff and police recruits who were running in formation during routine training, as CBS News reports.
The early morning crash injured 25 members of the law enforcement academy, and five of the recruits had critical injuries. One of the cadets was sent home from the hospital over the weekend, but at least one other remains in critical, albeit stable, condition.
Guttierez tells local news the crash was not intentional, which is contrary to what early police reports claimed, saying “the driver was detained at the scene of the crash, and later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer.” Investigators at the scene also suspected the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, which began with the Honda SUV veering into the wrong lane, running over part of the group of 75 recruits, then finally coming to a halt after crashing into a pole.
According to his attorney, Gutierrez was driving to work after having woken up at five in the morning, and was on his way to the solar panel company where he works as an electrical engineer. The attorney refutes any claim that his client was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and added that he hadn’t stayed up late the night before — and, presumably, was not deliberately in an unsafe position to drive.
His attorney also says that Gutierrez is “a good kid that fell asleep on his way to work early in the morning,” and added that he comes from “a proud law enforcement family.” For his part, the driver says he wishes “it never happened,” and expressed remorse during an interview with local news, NBCLA.
Gutierrez was being held without bail, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said investigators had “probable cause to believe (the crash) was intentional,” per CBS. But the SUV driver was later released due to insufficient evidence for the alleged charges, though the sheriff warned the driver could be arrested again pending an investigation.