Veteran held on attempted murder counts after car hits crowd
SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) — A former Army sharpshooter with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder plowed his car at high speed into a group of pedestrians in a Silicon Valley suburb, injuring eight people, and then told authorities that he intentionally hit them, police said.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, gave no indication why he targeted the group in Sunnyvale, California, authorities said. He was being held Wednesday on eight counts of attempted murder. Four of the pedestrians remained hospitalized, including a 13-year-old girl who was in critical condition. Peoples was scheduled to appear in court Friday.
A witness, Don Draper, said he watched in horror as the car sped through a crosswalk in a shopping area Tuesday evening and bodies went flying. It was a warm night, around dinnertime, and people were out in cafes and restaurants.
“I saw this woman fly through the air right in front of me. She flipped upside down and then fell right in front of my car,” Draper said. He marched over to Peoples’ car, which had swerved onto a sidewalk and crashed into a tree. He said Peoples did not appear drunk but looked dazed and was mumbling over and over, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
Sunnyvale police Capt. Jim Choi said authorities were still trying to determine a motive. There was no evidence linking Peoples to any terrorist organization, but the crash was deliberate, he said.
“He did intentionally try to run over the people,” Choi said. “He did not express any remorse, as far as we can tell.”
Choi said investigators were processing evidence found Wednesday in a search of Peoples’ apartment in Sunnyvale, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Police also gave him a blood test for drugs and were checking into accounts from family members that he had a history of mental illness.
Family and friends described Peoples as quiet and polite and expressed shock at his involvement.
His mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said she could not imagine any situation in which her son would deliberately crash into innocent people other than something related to the PTSD she said he experienced after serving as an Army sharpshooter in Iraq.
“Unless the car malfunctioned, he would not have done that. He’s like the perfect, model citizen,” she said.
Her son graduated from Sacramento State University after returning from Iraq in 2007 and was working as an auditor for the Defense Department in nearby Mountain View, she said.
“He basically probably has no friends but the people he works with,” she said. “He’s an Army vet. He’s a good kid, never been arrested. I promise you: It was not deliberate. If anything, it was that Army.”
She said Peoples had “a bad episode” with PTSD in 2015 and has told her that he had been regularly taking medication since then.
The mother said the Army forced her son to retire because of PTSD. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col Carla Gleason confirmed Wednesday that he retired from the Army.
Peoples served as a civil affairs specialist in the Army Reserve from March 2004 to July 2009 and attained the rank of sergeant, and he was deployed to Iraq from June 2005 to May 2006, according to another Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz. He did not answer questions about whether Peoples’ departure from the Army was due to PTSD.
Police were investigating the PTSD report, Choi said.
Other witness statements matched Draper’s account that the driver was speeding and drove directly toward the pedestrians without trying to veer away or stop.
Six people were taken to hospitals, including the youngest victim, a 9-year-old boy who was treated and released.
Miguel Balbuena, 15, was on his bike waiting to cross when he heard a woman scream. He tried to get out of the way but failed. He’s on crutches after a metal pole squeezed his leg.
“It’s not something you see every day,” he told television station KTVU, saying it was like a scene out of a movie. “It was really hard to see.”
Isaiah Peoples’ former housemate Chuck Herrera described him as quiet — someone who had to be coaxed into going out for drinks or dinner. He said Peoples was kind to Herrera’s toddler son.
He recalls Peoples “always had a lot of pills” and a cough.
“The guy I met was not someone who you think will hurt someone,” he said. “My guess is something happened.”
The FBI was assisting California officials in the investigation.
Williams and Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco also contributed to this report.