Whittier

Some Recruits Struck by SUV in Whittier Suffered ‘Life-Changing' Injuries, Sheriff Says

Twenty-five Los Angeles County Sheriff's recruits were running in a four-column formation when an oncoming SUV driver veered into their path on a Whittier street.

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Four Los Angeles County Sheriff's recruits who were struck by a wrong-way SUV driver during a training run in Whittier remain hospitalized Sunday in critical condition.

They were among 25 recruits injured in the crash Wednesday morning on a neighborhood street near the department's STARS Center training facility in the community about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The rest of the recruits have been released from the hospital and are recovering at home.

One of the recruits, Alejandro Martinez, has suffered medical setbacks and he is now in grave condition.

The Department would like to thank the community for the continued outpouring of support and prayers received for all affected.

"There's a variety of life-changing, life-altering injuries that some of these recruits went through," said Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

The victims suffered head injuries broken bones and loss of limbs, Villanueva said at a Wednesday news conference. One victim was on a ventilator, Villanueva said.

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Other injuries ranged from minor, including the 22-year-old driver, to moderate. Several of the victims' family members arrived hospitals in the hours after the crash, some by sheriff's department helicopter, the sheriff said.

One of the most critically injured sheriff's recruits struck by a wrong way driver in Whittier is at the County USC hospital being treated for their injuries. Alex Rozier reports for the NBC4 News on Nov. 16, 2022.

The horrifying chain of events unfolded as the 75 recruits were running northbound on Mills Avenue when a southbound SUV veered into their path. Video from a camera on a resident's property shows the Honda CRV headed toward the four columns of recruits, all dressed in white shirts as they jogged in formation on the side of the street.

Resident Christine Periman was sleeping at the time.

"I thought there was an earthquake because there was this loud shaking," Periman said.

Recruits at the front of the formation told deputies those who were struck had no time to react. After striking the recruits, the SUV slammed head-on into a light pole.

"They had zero warning," said Capt. Pat MacDonald, whose bureau oversees the academy. "Thank God for that light pole because the vehicle ultimately hit it and stopped, as opposed to possibly hitting more recruits."

The SUV was traveling at an estimated 30 to 40 mph, Villanueva said, citing reports from recruits. There were no signs of tire skid marks, he said.

Video taken by witness to the aftermath Francisco Silva showed cadets trying to help injured cadets on the ground. He said he was awoken by screams and looked out his window to see the chaos.

“It’s just like a scene in a movie you don’t want to see live," he said. "When running, you're so vulnerable. It's just hard to process. Plus seeing it so close, seconds after it happened."

The recruits were running with eight road guards who wear reflective high-visibility vests. Drill instructors and safety vehicles accompanied recruits on the run, according to the sheriff's department.

Most of the trainees were LA County Sheriff's recruits, but some were from Pasadena, Glendale, and Bellflower.

The 22-year-old SUV driver, a Diamond Bar man, was detained at the scene and later arrested, the sheriff's department said Thursday. The sheriff said a DUI breath and field sobriety test administered at the scene did not indicate the driver was under the influence of alcohol.

 The case was being investigated by the California Highway Patrol.

"It looks like it's an accident -- a horrific accident,'' Villanueva said.

The recruits are part of a training program at the nearby S.T.A.R.S. Center is located in the 11000 bock of Colima Road in Whittier. The S.T.A.R.S. Center is one of two pre-academy training sites in Los Angeles County.

Witnesses said the recruits often train in the neighborhood.

The programs include physical training and academic sessions. Participation in the program is voluntary and not required to become a sheriff's deputy trainee.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the victims represent about half of the current class.

The California Highway Patrol asked anyone with information about the crash to contact investigators at 562-868-0503.

The Sheriff's Relief Associated is accepting donations. Get more information here.

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