A vehicle struck and injured 25 cadets from a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Recruit training class Wednesday morning in unincorporated Whittier, Sheriff’s Department officials said. Five cadets were in critical condition and a 22-year-old Hispanic man, who was driving the vehicle, was detained for investigation.
According to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva during a news conference Wednesday morning from a hotel in the city of Orange, a recruit class assigned to the STARS Explore Training Academy was doing a routine run in formation near the academy, moving northbound on the 10600 block of Mills Avenue — in the street — in unincorporated Whittier. At about 6:20 a.m., a vehicle traveling southbound on the street moved into the northbound lane and drove head-on into the group.
“Some recruits are saying they heard the car accelerating — they estimate around 30 miles an hour,” Villanueva said. “Thirty to 40 miles an hour. And as you can see how little reaction time that allows someone because that’s going pretty fast.”
He added that there were no skid marks.
“The driver was transported (to a) local hospital,” Villanueva continued, “(he was) negative on a field sobriety test and blew a 0.0 on the breathalyzer, so the cause of the accident — motive, anything — is unknown at this time.”
Villanueva said a California Highway Patrol investigation would determine what might’ve happened.
“It looks like it’s an accident — a horrific accident,” Villanueva said, “but we can’t know that for sure until the CHP does their investigation and reaches a conclusion based on all the evidence they still have yet to gather.”
It is still possible, he added, that the motorist was under the influence of drugs.
The academy class, Villanueva told media, was made up of 75 recruits. Of the 25 cadets injured, all were transported to local hospitals. Sixteen of them had minor injuries, four had moderate injuries and their condition was stable, and five were in critical condition.
Pat McDonald, captain of the LASD’s training bureau, said the group was running in a formation of four rows from smallest to tallest. He added that matters could’ve been worse.
“Now, there was a light pole on the east side of the street,” he said during the news conference, “and the one thing that was relayed to me was, ‘Thank God for that light pole,’ because the vehicle ultimately hit it and stopped as opposed to possibly hitting more recruits.”
McDonald said the cadets were wearing bright white T-shirts and Sheriff’s Department green shorts, and they were running with eight road guards who spread themselves accordingly to protect the running formation, and two black and white safety vehicles.
“The sheriff’s academy has been there since 1982,” McDonald added. “And the unincorporated area of Whittier is very familiar with the recruits running on the road.”
The two safety vehicles traveling with the cadets were, at the time, behind the running formation when the collision occurred, according to McDonald.
“They were blocking the northbound lane on Mills,” he said. “And so, the … running formation turned northbound, so that vehicle’s now to the rear. Once all the runners were to pass those vehicles, that vehicle would catch up to the front. It didn’t have a chance yet. And that’s when the vehicle that was in the southbound lane went in the northbound lane.”
According to Villanueva, 20 of the 25 injured cadets were LASD recruits, two were from the Bell Police Department, two from the Glendale Police Department and one was from the Pasadena Police Department.
Asked if he’d ever seen anything like this before, Villanueva said he had not.
“We’ve had an occasional injury in training of one individual, maybe shrapnel at the range or, you know, a broken limb or something, or something that happens in physical training, defensive tactics,” Villanueva replied. “Those things we’ve seen periodically because of just the sheer volume of people we put through the academy. It happens. But something like this is unique.”
According to Villanueva, this particular class was in its eighth week of training with 14 weeks to go.
“And what they have got going in their favor,” he said, “is that they’re all young, able bodied and in good health, and, Lord willing, they’ll be able to recover — all of them, even the one who is currently in the most critical state … but there’s going to (be) a long road to recovery.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement following the news of the incident.
“I am shocked to hear that a driver plowed into a group of young sheriff’s academy cadets during their morning training run,” she stated. “These individuals represent the future of law enforcement, they have incredible courage, and my utmost respect for wanting to serve their communities. I’m tracking this incident closely — it’s senseless and tragic. From the bottom of my heart, I am hoping no one was seriously hurt.”