WHITTIER, Calif. (AP) — An SUV driving on the wrong side of the road struck 25 recruits from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy during a practice run around dawn Wednesday, seriously injuring five of them, authorities said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the series of the most serious injuries included head injuries, broken bones and “limb loss”. The trainees included recruits from the Sheriff’s Department and several local police departments.
The investigation into the accident is being conducted by the California Highway Patrol, and “so far it looks like it was an accident, a horrific accident,” Villanueva said.
Deputy CHP chief Charlie Sampson said about 75 recruits ran in formation northbound down the road when the southbound vehicle swerved into the oncoming lane and struck the victims.
Sampson said all possibilities, from an intentional act to interference with driving, are being investigated.
The driver was only identified as a 22-year-old man from the Diamond Bar suburb. The sheriff said a field sobriety test on the driver came back negative. County Fire Department spokeswoman Capt. Sheila Kelliher said the driver also suffered minor injuries.
“Personally, I have a heart condition,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, adding that she is focused on the injured cadets to get through this.
The crash happened just before 6:30 a.m. in a Whittier suburb where a training academy is located.
The recruits walked in four columns with two black-and-white radio trucks and eight “road wardens” wearing reflective vests, said Capt. Patrick Mcdonald, academy captain.
Deputies received help from a nearby fire station, but also immediately transported some of the most seriously injured directly to hospitals, possibly saving their lives, said county fire chief Anthony C. Marrone.
Helicopter broadcasts on TV news showed a huge response from firefighters and ambulances, an SUV with severe frontal damage sitting on a fallen pole on a sidewalk, and scores of people in training uniform nearby. There was also a 25 mph (40 km/h) speed limit sign nearby.
Running shoes and a backpack were scattered around the crime scene.
“Our hearts go out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Recruits who were injured this morning while training to serve their communities,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “Jennifer and I send our best wishes for her recovery and stand with her loved ones and colleagues at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at this difficult time.”
Antczak reported from Los Angeles.