SUNNYVALE, Calif. — A former U.S. Army sharpshooter with a history of PTSD plowed his car at high speed into a group of pedestrians in a quiet Silicon Valley suburb, injuring eight people including three children, and then told authorities that he intentionally hit them but has not said why.
Police in Sunnyvale, California, said Wednesday, April 24 that Isaiah Peoples, 34, was being held on eight counts of attempted murder. Four of the victims remained hospitalized with major injuries, including a 13-year-old girl in critical condition.
A witness, 72-year-old Don Draper, said he watched in horror as Peoples’ car sped through a crosswalk in a Sunnyvale shopping area Tuesday evening, April 22, and bodies went flying. It was a warm night, around dinner time, and people were out in cafes and restaurants in the area.
“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, adding that he was so enraged, 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 authorities were processing evidence found in a search of Peoples’ Sunnyvale apartment on Wednesday and had given him a blood test to determine if drugs were in his system. They were investigating accounts from family members that Peoples had a history of mental illness.
Family and friends described Peoples as a quiet and polite person and expressed shock.
His mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said she couldn’t imagine any situation in which her mild-mannered son would deliberately crash into innocent people, other than something related to the post-traumatic stress disorder 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.
She said her son graduated from Sacramento State University after returning from Iraq in 2007. He was working as an auditor for the Department of Defense in nearby Mountain View.
“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 U.S. Army.
Another Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz, said that Peoples had 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. He did not answer questions about whether Peoples’ departure from the army was due to PTSD.
Choi said police were investigating the PTSD report.
Other witness statements matched Draper’s recollection that the driver was speeding and drove directly toward the pedestrians without trying to veer away or stop in the city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
The crash happened at a major intersection in an area with commercial strip malls that residents described as a quiet California suburb.
Six people were taken to hospitals, including the youngest victim, a 9-year-old boy who was treated and released with minor injuries. A 15-year-old boy was treated and released by paramedics.
Peoples’ former housemate Chuck Herrera described Isaiah Peoples as quiet — someone who had to be coaxed into going out for drinks or dinner. He said Peoples was polite and kind and sweet 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 is assisting California officials in the investigation.