California attorney of driver charged in wrong-way crash that injured 25 recruits says client asleep at wheel

The attorney of a California driver involved in last week’s wrong-way crash that left 25 sheriffs’ office recruits injured says her client was asleep behind the wheel at the time and that the crash was “100% unintentional,” according to reports.

Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was arrested around 3:15 p.m. on Nov. 16, hours after he allegedly careened a dark-colored SUV into a pack of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recruits in Whittier, south of Los Angeles. He was subsequently charged with attempted murder on a peace officer, with “additional charges pending,” the LASD said.

Nicholas Gutierrez at the scene of the wrong-way Whittier crash, Nov. 16, 2022.
(FOX 11 Los Angeles)

Gutierrez’s attorney, Alexandra Kazarian, has refuted claims by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva that her client intentionally struck the officers, FOX 11 reported Monday.

“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,” Alexandra Kazarian, Gutierrez’s attorney, said in a statement to KABC-TV.

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Authorities said a field sobriety test performed on the driver was negative. Authorities released Gutierrez on Thursday, citing the need for further investigation.

“Due to the extreme complexity of the investigation, which includes ongoing interviews, video surveillance review, and additional evidence needed to be analyzed, homicide investigators have released Mr. Gutierrez from the Sheriff’s Department custody today at approximately 9:55 PM,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Two investigators stand next to a mangled SUV that struck Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits in Whittier, California, on Nov. 16.
(Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP)

One of the police recruits struck by the wrong-way driver has experienced medical “setbacks” and is now considered gravely injured, sheriff’s office officials said late Sunday. Four other recruits remain in critical condition and all others have been released, Fox 11 reported.

The case has not been formally referred to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said in an email that sheriff’s and highway patrol authorities advised late Thursday that they wouldn’t be presenting a case at this time and that the suspect would be released.

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It will be up to the county district attorney to decide whether Gutierrez will be charged and for what offense.

Fox News Digital has reached out to LASD for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.