Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Sheriff’s recruit in grave condition; one of 25 trainees hit by car in South Whittier

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One of 25 Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits injured last week when a driver plowed into the group while they were on a training run in South Whittier was listed Sunday in grave condition, according to the department.

The recruit was identified as Alejandro Martinez, who suffered brain swelling, compound femur fractures, a collapsed lung and damage to multiple organs and who has been placed on a ventilator, according to sources familiar with the incident but who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva had previously said the department’s biggest concern was for Martinez, who he said had surgery after head trauma and multiple fractures following Wednesday’s crash.

In a statement, Villanueva said the recruit had suffered a setback that moved his condition from critical to grave. The department asked the public “to keep him and his family in your prayers.” Two other recruits remain in critical condition, while the remainder of those injured have been released from various hospitals.

Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar was initially arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers after Wednesday morning’s crash. But he was released Thursday after his arrest was deemed a detention.

Investigators are continuing to develop the case against Gutierrez but are not legally allowed to hold a suspect in custody for more than 48 hours without presenting the case to prosecutors, said Sgt. Gerardo Magos, an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson.

Once investigators have built a case, they plan to arrest Gutierrez and present the case to the L.A. County district attorney’s office, Magos said.

Before Gutierrez’s release, Villanueva said in an interview with NewsNation that investigators “have developed probable cause to believe it was intentional.”

Gutierrez could not be reached for comment.

The recruits were running in four columns, accompanied by drill instructors and two black-and-white radio cars, when a Honda CR-V drove into the group about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday near the sheriff’s STARS Center Academy in the 10600 block of Mills Avenue, authorities said.

As the group ran north on Mills Avenue, a vehicle approached at 30 to 40 mph, according to witnesses. It veered onto the wrong side of the road and plowed into the recruits.

The runners at the front of the formation were able to get out of the way before the SUV struck others and crashed into a light pole, authorities said.

Villanueva said during a news conference Wednesday there were no skid marks at the scene. The driver remained in the vehicle after the crash, and those at the scene struggled to get him out initially, the sheriff said.

“From what I understand, he was in the vehicle with his foot still on the accelerator,” he said.

Three people stand together near the scene of a car accident in Whittier.

Family members of the suspect stand near the scene of the crash.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Breathalyzer test was administered at the scene and authorities found no evidence of alcohol, Villanueva said, noting that the driver “blew a 0.0.” But authorities are working to determine whether he was under the influence of other controlled substances at the time of the crash. A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said marijuana was recovered from the driver’s vehicle.

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