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‘So many bodies scattered everywhere’: Shocking scene where 25 sheriff’s recruits were hit while running

A fire engine near where an SUV crashed next to a school
An SUV that struck 25 Los Angeles County sheriff’s cadets during a morning run Wednesday came to rest near an elementary school in South Whittier.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Anthony Mendoza, 75, stood outside his South Whittier home in view of the smashed-up SUV on the sidewalk and yellow tape blocking off Trumball Street and Mills Avenue.

It was here where an SUV slammed into 25 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recruits jogging on Wednesday morning.

Mendoza’s lived in his home for 25 years, and over that time he has seen the cadets running on what he believed was a four-mile course along Telegraph Road and Mills Avenue many times.

“They do it all the time. That’s what they do,” he said.

Wednesday was different. He started hearing sirens around 6:30 a.m. but didn’t leave his home to look outside until a sheriff’s deputy came and knocked on the door later and let his wife know there had been an accident.

“I don’t understand how this happened,” he said, gesturing at the wreckage.

First responders at the scene of the accident
First responders at the scene where a driver plowed into a large group of sheriff’s cadets on a training run in South Whittier.
(KTLA-TV Channel 5)
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The recruits were members of the STARS Center Academy, which is located nearby.

Dispatchers received a call at 6:26 a.m. about a crash involving pedestrians, Deputy Brenda Serna said.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Sheila Kelliher initially said 22 recruits were injured in the crash. It was not immediately clear how many were directly struck by the vehicle. Five were in critical condition.

Firefighters at Station 96 heard a loud bang and went outside to find an SUV had struck the group of recruits. The firefighters began rendering aid to the injured, who were sent to seven hospitals with various injuries, Kelliher said.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva says injuries include head trauma and broken bones, and ‘we have had some loss of limb.’

The 22-year-old driver of the vehicle was detained, authorities said. The vehicle was going the wrong way, Kelliher said. She had no information on the driver’s condition prior to the crash but noted his car knocked down a large utility pole, “so there was some velocity there.”

“It looked like an airplane wreck. There [were] so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a news conference in Orange, near the UC Irvine Medical Center, where some recruits were being treated.

Photos on social media showed sheriff’s deputies and paramedics frantically giving medical aid to recruits lying injured on the street and sidewalks.

Firefighters carry an injured sheriff's cadet
Firefighters carry an injured sheriff’s cadet in South Whittier.
(KTLA-TV Channel 5)

Down Trumball Street, homes had pumpkins on the porch and orange wreaths on doors. One still had Halloween decorations up, with a skeleton waving hello from a small carriage in front.

Along Mills Avenue, sheriff’s deputies were grouped in the street near the crashed car.

Raymond Espinosa, 92, who lives next door to Mendoza said he didn’t hear the sirens. All he heard was a helicopter overheard.

He heard about what happened on the news. When his wife looked out the window, she saw everything getting blocked off. Espinosa, who has lived in his home for more than 50 years, has also seen the recruits running around the area in the past.

“You see them all come by here,” he said. “It’s horrible.”

Espinosa said the neighborhood is usually pretty quiet and an accident like this is unusual.

Five L.A. County sheriff’s recruits were critically injured Wednesday when a driver plowed into a large group during a training run in South Whittier, authorities said.

Throughout the morning, residents from across the city arrived at the intersection.

“Can you imagine the parents? They probably don’t even know yet that their kid got hit,” 23-year-old Jessica Martinez told her friend, Yvonne Salas, as they peered at the scene down the road.

The pair live in Whittier and had driven over in the morning. Martinez’s neighbor texted and asked whether she saw what was happening on the news.

“It’s so sad,” Martinez said.

Omar Dadia, 42, has lived along Bentongrove Drive for four years. On Wednesday morning, his wife woke him up after hearing sirens wailing along Mills Avenue.

“Why would a car go up on the sidewalk and hit 75 sheriff guys running. These guys run all the time. Every month or every two months, you see them.”

— Mike Pavich, a South Whittier resident

Dadia walked to Mills around 7 a.m., when he saw the crashed SUV and bodies along the road. He heard groans and saw blood.

“Seeing those people laying there, some here, some there, hurt,” he recounted. “I can’t imagine what their parents would feel right now.”

“All they wanted to do is be ready to join,” he said.

Dadia shot video showing some of the recruits wrapped in white sheets or blankets in the morning chill. They wore jogging pants, running shorts and tennis shoes.

A car crashed into a large group of Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits during a training run in South Whittier.

Mike Pavich, 73, who also lives on Bentongrove Drive, said he became curious when he saw a neighbor turn around after being unable to turn from their street onto Mills Avenue around 6:20 a.m.

He spotted a sheriff’s patrol car turning sideways to block off the road. He walked down to Mills, coffee in hand, and heard yelling.

“There were guys laying in the street, on the sidewalk,” he said. By the time he got to the street, he said there were 10 sheriff’s vehicles.

“There were more still coming, and ambulances were coming,” he said, estimating that there were a dozen ambulances.

He watched firefighters trying to work on the injured recruits. They wrapped the victims with white sheets or blankets, he said.

“There were groups of sheriff’s all over,” he said. “I’ve never seen this.”

“Why would a car go up on the sidewalk and hit 75 sheriff guys running,” he said. “These guys run all the time. Every month or every two months, you see them.”

VIDEO | 01:14
Witness captures the scene of the sheriff’s recruit crash in South Whittier

Cellphone video shows the scene after a car crashed into a large group of Los Angeles County sheriff’s recruits during a training run in South Whittier.

South Whittier resident Antwan Ramirez said one thought crossed his mind when he heard the “large crash” a little past 6:30 a.m.

Ramirez, who works a block away from the crash site in a mini mall with a sheriff’s substation, said he knew it was “some kind of crash.”

“If you’re here in the early morning hours like I am, you have cars flying down the street at all hours on Mills, Telegraph [Road] and Florence [Avenue] — it’s really dangerous,” he said. “People are flying down Mills and Florence racing to get to the 5 Freeway for work.”

Ramirez said he’s been a resident for 23 years and said the area where the cadets were running is dangerous because they were “filled with parked cars.”

“Imagine that you have a group of 15 or 30 people all running and they can’t all fit on the sidewalk, they’re going to spill over into the middle of the street and that makes them a target,” Ramirez said. “It’s tragic stuff.”


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