Los Angeles County Sheriffs
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, during his interview with NBC4. Photo credit: Screen shot, nbclosangeles.com/

One of the four Los Angeles County law enforcement cadets critically injured when they were struck by an SUV last Wednesday now is in “grave condition” and on life support.

Meanwhile, the motorist who struck the group of cadets spoke out for the first time since the crash, insisting it was an accident, not an intentional act, as Sheriff Alex Villanueva contended last week.

“I fell asleep at the wheel,” Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, of Diamond Bar, told NBC4 in Los Angeles. “I woke up to the sound of (recruits) banging on the windows.”

Gutierrez was behind the wheel of a Honda CRV that plowed into a group of law enforcement cadets during a training run in South Whittier early Wednesday. Two dozen recruits were injured, four critically.

One of those critically injured recruits, identified by the sheriff’s department as Alejandro Martinez, was listed in grave condition Monday. The sheriff’s department asked the public to “keep him and his family in your prayers.”

Sheriff’s officials said three other cadets remain in critical condition, while the rest of the more than two dozen trainees who were injured have been released from hospitals.

The cadets were injured when the SUV swerved into a group of about 75 law enforcement trainees who were on an organized run around, just blocks from the sheriff’s STARS Explorer Academy law enforcement training center.

Sheriff’s officials said the group of recruits was running in columns northbound on the roadway when the southbound SUV swerved to the opposite side of the road and plowed into the trainees.

The sheriff said the training class included recruits from the sheriff’s department and various other law enforcement agencies, and those who were injured included two each from the Bell and Glendale police departments and one from the Pasadena Police Department. The rest were all sheriff’s department trainees.

Gutierrez, in his interview with NBC4, denied deliberately plowing into the cadets.

“I didn’t intentionally do it,” he said. “I wish it never happened. I feel bad it happened.”

He told the station that sheriff’s investigators “tried to say that I did it intentionally, which I didn’t. I kept on telling them I didn’t.”

Gutierrez was arrested hours after the crash and booked on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer. But late Thursday, he was released from custody, with sheriff’s officials saying the complex case needed more extensive investigation.

State law allows authorities to hold a suspect in custody for 48 hours unless criminal charges are filed by prosecutors.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Alexandra Kazarian, told Los Angeles Magazine that Gutierrez comes from a law enforcement family and has “zero animosity toward law enforcement.”

“Homicide investigators have no evidence whatsoever to say this was intentional,” Kazarian told the magazine.

Kazarian noted that Gutierrez is the son of a retired corrections officer, and he has brothers and cousins who are in law enforcement.

“He is a hard-working young man who lives with his parents and installs solar panels for a living,” she told the magazine.

Gutierrez told Channel 4 that he doesn’t remember exactly what happened leading up to the crash, insisting he fell asleep behind the wheel while heading to his job as an electrician.

City News Service