SUV Driver Accused of Striking Deputy Trainees Released From Jail

Jail records show the 22-year-old was released due to insufficient evidence; Sheriff says it was an intentional act

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A 22-year-old man from Diamond Bar whom LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said intentionally drove into a group of law enforcement trainees in Whittier, injuring dozens and two critically, was released from jail due to insufficient evidence, according to law enforcement records and other sources.

Nicholas J. Gutierrez was freed from the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles around 10 p.m. Thursday, booking records showed, and an initial court date that had been scheduled for Friday was deleted.

The Sheriff's Department said the investigation was ongoing and investigators were working to collect additional evidence to present to prosecutors.

Gutierrez was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of attempted murder, Villanueva announced, and said in a media interview that detectives had, "probable cause to believe that this was intentional," though Sheriff's officials did not detail what led to that conclusion.

His attorney issued a statement Friday.

"Nicholas comes from a proud law enforcement family and the injuries to these recruits is beyond heartbreaking," attorney Alexandra Kazarian said. "The Gutierrez family appreciates the Sheriff’s Department taking the time to conduct a full and complete investigation. As many have asked, we want to emphasize that Nicholas was his way to work, and had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of this tragic accident."

According to multiple law enforcement sources, Gutierrez was questioned repeatedly after he was detained at the scene of the collision and gave deputies and investigators a consistent account.

He made what was described as a, 'spontaneous statement,' immediately after the crash that the sources and other officials said could be interpreted in different ways. The sources told NBC4's I-Team that Gutierrez said he was following turn-by-turn directions on a mapping application on a cellphone, and that he was unfamiliar with the route he was taking to a  job site when the crash happened.

An eyewitness also reported seeing Gutierrez swerving and possibly drowsy prior to the collision.

Villanueva said earlier this week that Gutierrez cleared a breathalyzer test for alcohol intoxication and initially characterized the crash as, "a horrific accident."

The sources said a small amount of marijuana was found in Gutierrez's wrecked Honda when it was searched.

Late Thursday, detectives also obtained information from a data recorder in the Honda, the sources said, though it was not clear whether or not it confirmed the accounts of some of the trainees who said they thought the vehicle might have been speeding up just before the impact.

The 75 recruits were running northbound on Mills Avenue when the SUV, traveling southbound, veered into their path, traveling the wrong way on the neighborhood street at an estimated 30 to 40 mph.

Five police and deputy recruits remain hospitalized in critical condition after a wrong way driver slammed into their cadet class out on a training run in Whittier. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News on Nov. 16, 2022.

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.

Most of the trainees were LA County Sheriff's recruits, but some were trainees from police departments in Pasadena, Glendale, and Bellflower that contract with the Sheriff's Department for academy training.

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.

Witnesses said the recruits often train in the neighborhood.

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