The man behind the wheel of an SUV that plowed into a group of law enforcement trainees in Whittier in 2022, injuring two dozen and killing one, is facing charges again, nearly a year after being released in the case due to insufficient evidence.
Los Angeles County prosecutors at a news conference Thursday announced that Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was charged with 11 felony counts, including vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. They said Gutierrez, 23 of Diamond Bar, was in custody.
If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison, District Attorney George Gascon said.
Gutierrez was arrested last year on suspicion of attempted murder, but was released shortly after. Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives believed the crash that injured 25 recruits as they were jogging in formation on Nov. 16, 2022 was intentional.
In an exclusive interview with NBC4 last year, Gutierrez said the crash was not deliberate and that he fell asleep at the wheel.
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.
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.
Alejandro Martinez, a 27-year-old U.S. Army veteran, was among the victims. He died 8 months later at the hospital.
Victims suffered head injuries, broken bones and loss of limbs.
“Some of them may be impacted for life. So what this suspect did impacted many people and their families forever,” Sheriff Robert Luna said at the Thursday news conference.
Luna remembered Martinez as a “true hero.” He said Martinez, along with serving his country, was an elementary after school coordinator and a sports coach. He was a Los Angeles Rams fan and a Los Angeles Galaxy season ticket holder.
Most of the trainees were Los Angeles 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.
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