The man who was arrested for allegedly driving a vehicle into a group of law enforcement recruits in Whittier, California, was released from jail Thursday night, but the sheriff’s department insists they did not make a mistake.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was released from custody at 9:49 p.m., according to jail records, citing an insufficient complaint.
Gutierrez is still considered a suspect in the case, and the decision to release him was made because investigators want more time to collect evidence to present to the District Attorney’s office for charges, not because they believe an error was made, said a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s not like they arrested the wrong suspect,” Deputy Deanna Mares told CNN late Thursday night. “They just want to make sure the investigation is going to be complete.”
The Sheriff’s Department is typically required to present a case to the DA within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest, and they were not ready to do that in the case of Gutierrez, Mares said.
Twenty-five recruits from multiple law enforcement agencies were hurt Wednesday when a vehicle drove into the group, an incident Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially called “a horrific accident.” That characterization changed dramatically Thursday morning, when the department announced the arrest of Gutierrez on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers.
The sheriff’s department originally said they intended to present the case to the DA’s office on Friday. The department did not give a new timetable Thursday for presenting the case.
CNN reached out Friday to Alexandra Kazarian, an attorney for Gutierrez. She told CNN affiliate KABC Thursday, “I have no doubt that an in-depth investigation will confirm that Nicholas is a hard working young man who holds no animosity towards law enforcement, and this was an absolutely tragic accident.”
Gutierrez was booked Wednesday afternoon, according to inmate records. He was alone in the vehicle at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s department told CNN.
Five of the cadets injured were listed in critical condition, authorities said. Another four recruits suffered moderate injuries, while 16 others sustained 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 updates have been given on the conditions of those injured.
The case remains under investigation and additional charges are pending, the sheriff’s office said. CNN has reached out to the DA’s office and the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation into the crash, for further details.
Officials initially said the crash appeared to have been “a horrific accident,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva had said in a news conference Wednesday.
The driver, who was going the wrong way, showed no sign of impairment, Villanueva said, and blew a zero in a Breathalyzer test administered at the scene. There were no skid marks visible at the site of the crash, the sheriff said.
“It looked like an airplane wreck – so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury,” said Villanueva of the scene. “It was pretty traumatic for all individuals.”
Kelliher initially said the recruits were all from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But according to Villanueva, those injured include recruits from the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, along with Pasadena, Glendale and the Bell Police Departments. Recruits from the El Segundo and UCLA police departments were also present but were not hurt.
The 75 recruits, all wearing white T-shirts and green shorts, were on what Captain Ted McDonald of the sheriff’s department training bureau described as a “typical run” as part of the department’s 22-week training course. They were accompanied by two safety vehicles and were running in four lines when they were hit, McDonald said.
The crash occurred about 500 feet away from a fire station, officials said. The four most critically injured patients were immediately rushed to the hospital, Los Angeles Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said, likely saving their lives.
Kelliher said the incident was “hard to see because these young people are getting ready to go put themselves in the line of danger in their career. And who knows that while you’re training to do that, you’re actually in harm’s way.”