FBI Launches Hate Crime Probe On Sunnyvale Car Attack
SUNNYVALE, CA — The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday it has launched a hate crime probe into the incident in which a Sunnyvale man mowed down eight pedestrians injuring most last week in what the police department has deemed a targeting of Muslims.
“The FBI San Francisco Field Office has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident that occurred in Sunnyvale on April 23, 2019. As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time,” FBI spokeswoman Cameron Polan said in a prepared statement. The federal will be conducted concurrently.
Sunnyvale Police obtained evidence to back the claim the former Army veteran identified as Isaiah Peoples may have been motivated by hate.
Peoples, 34, faces attempted murder charges for “intentionally” trying to strike the crowd in an alleged deliberate act, in particular those of a Muslim faith, the Sunnyvale police said.
He was arraigned Friday on eight counts of attempted murder, according to the District Attorney’s Office. He did not enter a plea and is expected to return to court on May 16 at last check.
Jay Boyarsky, chief assistant district attorney in Santa Clara County, had called the targeting of the victims based on their race or religion as “disturbing and appalling.”
The gruesome crash occurred Tuesday night on El Camino Real, shutting down traffic and shocking bystanders who watched in horror. The victims have not been identified. A handful of people were injured and transported to area hospitals. One 13-year-old girl remains in critical condition. She hangs in the balance in an induced coma. Two were treated and released at the scene.
Peoples had just picked up food and was taking it to a bible study group when he drove his black sedan into the crowd. Afterward, he made mutterings with religious overtones, police and bystanders reported.
The war veteran was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 2006, Sunnyvale public safety officials confirmed. He also served in the U.S. Army Reserve. A disassembled shotgun was found in his trunk, but Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo mentioned it was the only weapon in his possession.
It was suggested that Peoples may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and been taking medications. The police department served a search warrant at an apartment in the 1000 block of Greco Avenue on Wednesday to learn more about the suspect.
PTSD has long been an issue with returning war veterans, to what extent in how it affects this case remains to be seen.
“All VA facilities provide same-day urgent primary and mental health care services to veterans who need them. We encourage any veteran, family member or friend concerned about a veteran’s mental health to contact the Veterans Crisis Line,” Veteran Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System spokeswoman Kim Betton said.
Betton said the regional VA has declined to comment on the matter and instead referred those affected by the condition to the crisis line at 800-273-8255 or with trained professionals who can chat at www.veteranscrisisline.net.
“This act was clearly a product of some mental disorder or mental defect,” said Chuck Smith, Peoples’ defense attorney. Smith disputed that Peoples drove into the victims intentionally.
“There’s no explanation for this other than his service, what happened to him while serving our country,” Smith said.
Regardless of condition, the Sunnyvale police department has made the stern suggestion that Peoples appeared to be “motivated by race,” Sunnyvale police Capt. Jim Choi told Patch.
Choi cautioned those following the case to not rush to judgment. It’s unclear to him whether PTSD played a role.
“That’s based on the investigation,” he said.
“Based upon what is at the scene, it appears to be an intentional act. He did not try to slow down, he did not try to swerve and he did not try to brake,” Choi said. The vehicle eventually crashed into a tree after heading westbound on the major thoroughfare. The call came in at 6:40 p.m. from the Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road intersection.
Officers noted how the suspect seemed to show no remorse, the department cited. It’s unclear whether the man was under the influence, Choi added. He had no apparent connection with the victims and was apparently acting alone.
Peoples remains in Santa Clara County Jail with no bail. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
FBI spokesman Prentice Danner had noted last week that if it’s determined the incident is considered a hate crime, the federal law enforcement unit would become the lead agency.
Hate crimes are on the rise in California. According to the latest data from the California Attorney General’s Office, there were 1,093 reported hate crimes in 2017, a 17.4 percent increase from the prior year. Anti-Jewish bias events rose from 82 in 2016 to 104 in 2017, an increase of 26.8 percent. Anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias events rose from 37 in 2016 to 46 in 2017.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday he would put $15 million behind religious-based organizations strengthen security.
It’s hard to determine how often vehicles are used as weapons, but it’s easy to see how these types of incidents may happen. One may recall the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., a few years ago in which a white supremacist drove into a crowd with his car and killing a woman.
“Well, there’s less scrutiny in getting a drivers license than getting a gun,” Danner said.
This incident has left a lasting scar on those affected.
Shantain Vargas, a San Jose resident and contractor at Google, saw police vehicles rushing past her around the time of the crash. She followed them to the scene and saw officers arresting Peoples before they had set up caution tape and barriers.
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She said she heard Peoples say, “Thank you Jesus, praise Jesus,” and that he appeared to be completely coherent.
“He seemed like, completely fine, totally normal and nothing was wrong with him,” said Vargas, who saw police handcuff Peoples and later take him into custody.
She said there was blood everywhere, and that she saw a young man lying in the bushes at the intersection and two other victims.
“I can’t get the image of the victim out of my head,” Vargas said.
—Bay City News contributed to this report