A driver plowed a car into a large group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and police recruits as they were on a training run Wednesday morning, injuring 25, five of them critically, officials said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that the injured recruits were among about 65 cadets from his department who were running in a formation with 10 recruits from police departments in Los Angeles County.
They were struck around 6:30 am by a car that crossed the center line of a road near the Sheriff Department’s training academy in South Whittier, an unincorporated area in southeastern Los Angeles County, the authorities said.
In addition to the five recruits who were critically injured, 16 had minor injuries and four had moderate injuries, Sheriff Villanueva said at a news conference. The critical injuries were possibly “life-altering,” he said, and included head trauma, broken bones and lost limbs.
“It’s a tragic event, very traumatic for all involved,” the sheriff said.
He said that two of the injured recruits were from Bell Police Department, two were from the Glendale Police Department and one was from Pasadena Police Department. The rest were recruits connected with the sheriff’s department, he said.
The 22-year-old driver was in custody, the authorities said. His name was not immediately made public, and it was not clear if charges had been filed. Sheriff Villanueva said that the driver, who suffered minor injuries, had passed a sobriety test.
The California Highway Patrol was still gathering evidence, including drug testing, the sheriff said. But he added, “It looks like it’s a horrific accident.”
The group set out in a formation of four columns, from smallest to tallest, and accompanied by guards in reflective vests and by safety vehicles that are used to block traffic, Capt. Pat McDonald, who leads the Sheriff’s Department’s training bureau, said at the news conference.
As the group turned northbound on Mills Avenue, they formed a two-column formation because of traffic. Then the car, which was southbound, veered into the northbound lanes and struck the recruits, he said.
“They had zero warning,” he said.
Sheriff Villanueva said while those who were running in front saw the car, it happened quickly.
“They jumped out of the way, but the people behind had no luck because they never saw it,” he said.
Some of the recruits thought they heard the vehicle accelerate and estimated it was traveling at about 30 miles per hour, he said. The car stopped when it rammed into a light pole, possibly preventing it from hitting more people, Captain McDonald said.
The group was part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy recruit class assigned to the STARS Explorer Training Academy in South Whittier. Recruits from police departments in the county sometimes partner with the Sheriff’s Department to train, the department said.
The academy’s schedule said that this week recruits were ordered to line up at 6 am with proper attire for running.
They were in the eighth week of a 22-week program, which includes a physical fitness component. Officials said the recruits frequently run along the route where the accident occurred on Wednesday.