Sheriff: Too early to say LA driver targeted recruits

West

(NewsNation) — Law enforcement teams are working to determine whether a wrong-way driver incident in which the driver plowed into a group of jogging Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy recruits early Wednesday morning was an accident or a deliberate act.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said it is too early to determine, but the city’s homicide bureau investigators are working with the California Highway Patrol and the DA’s Crimes Against Peace Officers Section to come to an accurate conclusion.

Villanueva said five of the recruits were critically wounded with injuries ranging from head trauma to loss of limbs, four were moderately injured, and 16 others were minorly injured.

The collision occurred just before 6:30 a.m. PT when a group of 75 men and women from various law enforcement agencies were running in formation and a wrong-way driver veered into them head-on.

“There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in so many different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved,” Villanueva said.

Recruits reported hearing the car accelerate up to 40 mph before striking the joggers.

“Now we’re facing some life-altering injuries for the most severely injured recruits. … We hope all of them make a full recovery, and they’ll have a chance to come back and complete the academy. That’s my goal,” Villanueva said.

The injured recruits, one of whom is said to be on a ventilator, were transported to various hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area.

Family members and loved ones were transported to nearby hospitals to be with the patients in the most critical condition. Others dropped flowers at the scene.

The 22-year-old driver, who remains unidentified, didn’t have alcohol in his system but reportedly told investigators he was feeling sleepy, Capt. Sheila Kelliher of the Los Angeles County Fire Department reported. A police report submitted said the driver drove a 2018 Honda CRV and his injuries were minor.

Villanueva explained that the driver could face charges anywhere from reckless driving and gross negligence charges to assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.

“The vehicle’s driver that struck the recruits was detained pending further investigation,” the department said in a press release.

A motive and the events leading up to the crash are still under investigation.

“But you know, leave it to the cop haters out there,” Villanueva said, suggesting that someone on social media claimed it was a gang initiation. “I mean, that is really the extreme level of hatred out there in some members of the community. But I think the community has rallied around the department in tragedies like this,” Villanueva said. 

The Sheriff’s Relief Association is accepting donations from the public for injured recruits.

NewsNation affiliate KTLA and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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