Police say Sunnyvale crash driver targeted family thinking they were Muslim, are treating attack as hate crime – The Mercury News

SUNNYVALE — A driver who used his car to intentionally run down pedestrians earlier this week apparently was targeting a family he thought was Muslim, police said Friday at a news conference held shortly after the suspect in the attack was arraigned in court.

Police are now treating the crash as a hate crime. They said they believe the driver, Isaiah Joel Peoples, targeted the family, believed to be South Asian, purely based on their appearance. Three family members — the father, a 13-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old brother — were among the eight people injured in the crash. The daughter was the most severely hurt. She is in a coma and fighting for her life, police said.

“New evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted the victims based on their race, and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith,” Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Chief Phan Ngo said. He declined to say whether Peoples, 34, had followed the family or whether his attack was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky said there was “very appalling and disturbing evidence” that the family had been targeted based on religion.

Ngo said of the injured 13-year-old girl, who in an investigative summary submitted to the court was identified only by her first name, Dhriti, “Our hearts are with her and her loved ones as we pray for her recovery.”

Friday afternoon, Peoples, a Sunnyvale resident who worked as a government defense auditor, was arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose on eight counts of attempted murder. Four of the counts come with enhancements for causing great bodily injury. Were he to be convicted, Peoples would face life in prison. Friday, he appeared in the courtroom in a high-security red jail jumpsuit, entered no plea and remained in custody, with his next hearing scheduled for May 16.

Peoples’ mental state will be the “battleground” of the case, said Attorney Chuck Smith, who appeared on Peoples’ behalf. He said they will dispute that the crash was intentional, and argued that the tragedy was a product of possible post-traumatic stress syndrome afflicting a man who otherwise led an “honorable” and “blameless” life.

“This act was clearly the result of a mental disorder or defect,” Smith said.

But Boyarsky said the attack itself inflicted severe trauma.

“There are eight people who were seriously injured as a result of this man’s actions,” he said. “It’s traumatizing to these victims, it’s traumatizing to the police officers who had to see the carnage, it’s traumatizing to all members of the community who wonder about whether these people were targeted because of their race and religion.”

Video: Sunnyvale crash eyewitness describes the scene as 8 people are hit and injured

A man who identified himself as Peoples’ cousin, and would give his name only as Tom, was one of two family members who came to court to support him. Tom said he grew up with Peoples in their native San Francisco.

“He’s a good kid,” the cousin said. “He’s never been in trouble before. They’re treating him as guilty until proven innocent. We’re here just to make sure he has family members he can see.”

Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area, said that after 9/11, Muslims questioned whether it was safe to go to a mosque. This attack, she said, makes members of the Muslim community “question whether it’s safe to go into the street.”

Billoo said many members of the local Muslim community are “shocked and terrified” that this could happen in a place known for being diverse and progressive. That fear is particularly acute as families prepare, just a month after the attacks on Muslims in New Zealand, to enter the month of Ramadan.

These incidents “will have many of us looking over our shoulders and urging mosque leaders to assess security plans,” said Billoo, who regularly shops at a Sprouts store very near the scene of the attack.

Two victims being treated at Valley Medical Center in San Jose are now listed in fair condition. Other victims are being treated at Stanford Hospital. The teenage girl, a seventh-grader at Sunnyvale Middle School, suffered bleeding and swelling of the brain, and the left side of her skull was removed to relieve pressure, according to the court summary.

The girl’s father and 9-year-old brother, Prakhar, who was also identified only by his last name, also were hurt when the car hurtled into the busy intersection at El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue, but the boy was not hit by the car.

The summary identified the other injured victims as Marina Reimler, 32; Soeren Reimler, 33; Ping Lu, 51; Rajesh Narayan, 45;  Eric Nava, 24; and Miguel, 15, who was identified only by his first name. It was not clear which of the adults was the father of the 13-year-old girl and her brother.

Investigators are still trying to track Peoples’ movements before the Tuesday attack. Before the crash, he was delivering food to a Bible study group he attended, but police did not release any other information about where Peoples might have gone or what he might have done, except to say that he had a disassembled shotgun in his car.

Ngo had said earlier that Peoples told detectives that he meant to hit the victims, but did not offer a motive or exhibit any remorse for his alleged acts. He was described in multiple witness accounts as saying, “I love you, Jesus,” “Thank you Jesus,” and “Praise Jesus,” or words to that effect after the crash, language that continued as he was being removed from the scene in handcuffs. Peoples’ father was a nondenominational Christian pastor, his older brother, Joshua Peoples, said earlier this week.

Ngo said there was nothing obvious from Peoples’ background and behavior that might explain the crimes he is charged with: He has no known criminal history and no alarming social-media posts. Police said they are examining his computer, one of several items seized from his apartment Wednesday through a search warrant.

Peoples’ brother and mother have told reporters that he had shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq and had at one point been hospitalized for psychiatric issues. The brother said that their mother had spoken to Isaiah the day before the attack and said he seemed about to have “another one of those episodes.”

Peoples served more than five years in the Army in the mid-to-late 2000s, including 11 months in Iraq, and rose to the rank of sergeant. He worked in civil affairs, but before that, he served as a gunner and provided security, his brother said. He was honorably discharged, according to Army records, and received numerous awards and commendations, including an Army Commendation Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Combat Action Badge and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

After returning home, Peoples remained in the service a few more years and in 2012 earned an accounting degree from Sacramento State University. He worked as a pricing specialist for a company in Rocklin before starting his current job as a military contract auditor in Sunnyvale for the Defense Contract Audit Agency in August 2017.

Staff writer Emily DeRuy contributed reporting to this article

Listen: Police dispatch recordings as officers assess Sunnyvale crash scene

SUNNYVALE — A driver who used his car to intentionally run down pedestrians earlier this week apparently was targeting a family he thought was Muslim, police said Friday at a news conference held shortly after the suspect in the attack was arraigned in court.

Police are now treating the crash as a hate crime. They said they believe the driver, Isaiah Joel Peoples, targeted the family, believed to be South Asian, purely based on their appearance. Three family members — the father, a 13-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old brother — were among the eight people injured in the crash. The daughter was the most severely hurt. She is in a coma and fighting for her life, police said.

“New evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted the victims based on their race, and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith,” Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Chief Phan Ngo said. He declined to say whether Peoples, 34, had followed the family or whether his attack was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky said there was “very appalling and disturbing evidence” that the family had been targeted based on religion.

Ngo said of the injured 13-year-old girl, who in an investigative summary submitted to the court was identified only by her first name, Dhriti, “Our hearts are with her and her loved ones as we pray for her recovery.”

Friday afternoon, Peoples, a Sunnyvale resident who worked as a government defense auditor, was arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose on eight counts of attempted murder. Four of the counts come with enhancements for causing great bodily injury. Were he to be convicted, Peoples would face life in prison. Friday, he appeared in the courtroom in a high-security red jail jumpsuit, entered no plea and remained in custody, with his next hearing scheduled for May 16.

Peoples’ mental state will be the “battleground” of the case, said Attorney Chuck Smith, who appeared on Peoples’ behalf. He said they will dispute that the crash was intentional, and argued that the tragedy was a product of possible post-traumatic stress syndrome afflicting a man who otherwise led an “honorable” and “blameless” life.

“This act was clearly the result of a mental disorder or defect,” Smith said.

But Boyarsky said the attack itself inflicted severe trauma.

“There are eight people who were seriously injured as a result of this man’s actions,” he said. “It’s traumatizing to these victims, it’s traumatizing to the police officers who had to see the carnage, it’s traumatizing to all members of the community who wonder about whether these people were targeted because of their race and religion.”

Video: Sunnyvale crash eyewitness describes the scene as 8 people are hit and injured

A man who identified himself as Peoples’ cousin, and would give his name only as Tom, was one of two family members who came to court to support him. Tom said he grew up with Peoples in their native San Francisco.

“He’s a good kid,” the cousin said. “He’s never been in trouble before. They’re treating him as guilty until proven innocent. We’re here just to make sure he has family members he can see.”

Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area, said that after 9/11, Muslims questioned whether it was safe to go to a mosque. This attack, she said, makes members of the Muslim community “question whether it’s safe to go into the street.”

Billoo said many members of the local Muslim community are “shocked and terrified” that this could happen in a place known for being diverse and progressive. That fear is particularly acute as families prepare, just a month after the attacks on Muslims in New Zealand, to enter the month of Ramadan.

These incidents “will have many of us looking over our shoulders and urging mosque leaders to assess security plans,” said Billoo, who regularly shops at a Sprouts store very near the scene of the attack.

Two victims being treated at Valley Medical Center in San Jose are now listed in fair condition. Other victims are being treated at Stanford Hospital. The teenage girl, a seventh-grader at Sunnyvale Middle School, suffered bleeding and swelling of the brain, and the left side of her skull was removed to relieve pressure, according to the court summary.

The girl’s father and 9-year-old brother, Prakhar, who was also identified only by his last name, also were hurt when the car hurtled into the busy intersection at El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue, but the boy was not hit by the car.

The summary identified the other injured victims as Marina Reimler, 32; Soeren Reimler, 33; Ping Lu, 51; Rajesh Narayan, 45;  Eric Nava, 24; and Miguel, 15, who was identified only by his first name. It was not clear which of the adults was the father of the 13-year-old girl and her brother.

Investigators are still trying to track Peoples’ movements before the Tuesday attack. Before the crash, he was delivering food to a Bible study group he attended, but police did not release any other information about where Peoples might have gone or what he might have done, except to say that he had a disassembled shotgun in his car.

Ngo had said earlier that Peoples told detectives that he meant to hit the victims, but did not offer a motive or exhibit any remorse for his alleged acts. He was described in multiple witness accounts as saying, “I love you, Jesus,” “Thank you Jesus,” and “Praise Jesus,” or words to that effect after the crash, language that continued as he was being removed from the scene in handcuffs. Peoples’ father was a nondenominational Christian pastor, his older brother, Joshua Peoples, said earlier this week.

Ngo said there was nothing obvious from Peoples’ background and behavior that might explain the crimes he is charged with: He has no known criminal history and no alarming social-media posts. Police said they are examining his computer, one of several items seized from his apartment Wednesday through a search warrant.

Peoples’ brother and mother have told reporters that he had shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq and had at one point been hospitalized for psychiatric issues. The brother said that their mother had spoken to Isaiah the day before the attack and said he seemed about to have “another one of those episodes.”

Peoples served more than five years in the Army in the mid-to-late 2000s, including 11 months in Iraq, and rose to the rank of sergeant. He worked in civil affairs, but before that, he served as a gunner and provided security, his brother said. He was honorably discharged, according to Army records, and received numerous awards and commendations, including an Army Commendation Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Combat Action Badge and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

After returning home, Peoples remained in the service a few more years and in 2012 earned an accounting degree from Sacramento State University. He worked as a pricing specialist for a company in Rocklin before starting his current job as a military contract auditor in Sunnyvale for the Defense Contract Audit Agency in August 2017.

Staff writer Emily DeRuy contributed reporting to this article

Listen: Police dispatch recordings as officers assess Sunnyvale crash scene

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*