Man Drove Car Into Pedestrians Because He Thought They Were Muslim, Police Say
An Iraq War veteran who plowed into a crosswalk intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief they might be Muslim, authorities said.
The investigation into Isaiah Joel Peoples of Sunnyvale, California is ongoing.
His car plowed into a crowded, popular street then slammed into a tree, leaving eight people injured, including a 13-year-old of South Asian descent.
She remains in critical condition and is in a coma, with part of her skull removed to relieve pressure.
Her father and brother were also hit Tuesday when police said Peoples drove intentionally into a crosswalk while on his way to Bible study.
Prosecutors said hate crime allegations were still being investigated and could be added later, CBS San Francisco reported.
"There is no hate crime allegation charged at this point in time for one reason only; the matter is still being investigated," said Jay Boyarski, the Chief Assistant District Attorney for Santa Clara County.
"There is very appalling and disturbing evidence that at least one or two of these victims were targeted based on the defendant's view of what their race or religion may have been."
Peoples appeared briefly in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday. He did not enter a plea and is being held without bail.
The former U.S. Army sharpshooter experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, his family said. Peoples' attorney, Chuck Smith, said Friday the crash was in no way deliberate.
Smith said after the hearing that they do not dispute what happened, but that his client's mental state is the issue.
"He served our country, honorably and admirably, and he's led an otherwise blameless life," Smith said.
"So there's no explanation for this other than his service, the things he saw and what happened to him mentally while serving our country."
Peoples was on his way to a Bible class Tuesday in the Silicon Valley suburb of Sunnyvale when he told investigators he intentionally drove into a group of men, women and children, police said.
The 13-year-old girl was hit along with her father and brother, who had minor injuries. Three adults also remain hospitalised with injuries.
Peoples showed no remorse after his car ploughed at high speed into a group of people in a crosswalk before hitting a tree, Sunnyvale police chief Phan Ngo said.
Witness Don Draper said he marched over to Peoples' car after he crashed, and he found the driver muttering over and over, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus."
But Ngo said that "he did not behave in any manner that would be considered bizarre," when taken into custody.
Family and friends described Peoples as quiet and polite and expressed shock at his involvement. His mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said her son had "a bad episode" with PTSD in 2015, for which he was hospitalized. Peoples was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
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.