An Iraq War veteran who plowed into a crosswalk intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief they might be Muslim, Californian authorities say.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, faces eight counts of attempted murder for injuring eight people, including four who remain hospitalized.
The most seriously injured is a 13-year-old Sunnyvale girl of South Asian descent who is in a coma with severe brain trauma, with part of her skull removed to relieve pressure.
Her father and brother were also hit Tuesday when police say Peoples drove intentionally into a crosswalk while on his way to Bible study.
Peoples is a former Army sharpshooter who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
He ‘showed no remorse’ after his car plowed at high speed into a group of people in a crosswalk on Tuesday evening in the Silicon Valley suburb of Sunnyvale before hitting a tree, Police Chief Phan Ngo said.
Four people remain hospitalized, including 51-year-old Ping Lu, who has multiple broken limbs. Also hospitalized is 32-year-old Marina Reimler, with a broken leg and arm.
A witness said he watched in horror as the black 2012 Toyota Corolla sped through a crosswalk between El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Saratoga Road at 6.40pm on Tuesday and bodies went flying.
‘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,’ Don 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.’
The police chief said Peoples had picked up food and was on his way to deliver it to his Bible study group.
‘When we took him into custody, he did not behave in any manner that would be considered bizarre,’ Ngo said. ‘He has not shown any remorse.’
In an interview with ABC News, his mother, Leevell Peoples, recounted how in 2015, Isaiah was walking barefoot in Sacramento, thinking he was still in Iraq, when he picked up a rock and through it through a window.
During his stay in a hospital, she said Isaiah asked an officer guarding him how many people were killed today and said that he heard gunshots.
After the episode, Leevell said her son went back on his medication.
‘Two weeks ago we were on the phone and I said, “Are you still taking your medication?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s good.” I said, “You have to take that the rest of your life now.” He said, “I know,”‘ she said.
In the days preceding the crash, the mother said her veteran son was having trouble at work. She also said that talk of his job performance would trigger his PTSD.
She said she last spoke to Isaiah just hours before he drove into the crowd and recalled that he did not sound upset.
Leevell argued that her son requires psychiatric treatment and does not belong in jail.
‘I know with 100 percent certainty that my son did not do that on purpose. No way ever,’ 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’s been employed there since August 20, 2017, according to a local newspaper.
‘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 the Army forced her son to retire because of PTSD. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col Carla Gleason confirmed that he retired from the Army.
His brother, Joshua Peoples, painted a similar portrait of his sibling as a ‘really good kid’ struggling with PTSD.
‘He’s always just trying to do good for himself,’ said Joshua, who speculated that his service overseas ‘messed up his mental health.’
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.
Peoples was honorably discharged from the Army, and police were investigating the PTSD report, Ngo said.
Peoples had no criminal record and owned one weapon, a disassembled and inoperable shotgun that was in the trunk of his vehicle, according to the police chief.
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.’