An Army veteran with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder told Sunnyvale, California police he was driving to a Bible class when he intentionally drove into a crowd, injuring eight people.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, was scheduled to appear in court Friday in San Jose after being charged with eight counts of attempted murder.
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.
Eight people were hurt, the youngest a 9-year-old boy who was treated for minor injuries. Four remained hospitalized, including a 13-year-old girl in critical condition.
A witness said he watched in horror as the car sped through a crosswalk in a shopping area and bodies went flying. It was a warm night, around dinnertime, and people were out in cafes and restaurants.
“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.”
Investigators were trying to determine a motive.
Though the FBI was assisting in the investigation, there was no evidence linking Peoples to any terrorist organization and, so far, no evidence of a federal crime, Ngo said.
Investigators were processing evidence found Wednesday in a search of Peoples’ apartment in Sunnyvale, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Police also gave him a blood test for drugs and were checking into accounts from family members that he had a history of mental illness.
Family and friends described Peoples as quiet and polite and expressed shock at his involvement.
His mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said Peoples had “a bad episode” with PTSD in 2015, for which he was hospitalized, and has told her that he had been taking medication regularly since then.
She could not imagine any situation in which her son would deliberately crash into innocent people other than something related to the PTSD.
“Unless the car malfunctioned, he would not have done that. He’s like the perfect, model citizen,” 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 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.
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. He did not answer questions about whether Peoples’ departure from the Army was due to PTSD.
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.
Isaiah 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.”