Local authorities said Friday that a California man accused of ramming his car into a group of people earlier this week sought to hit them because he believed they were Muslims.
Sunnyvale police said they found new evidence that Isaiah Peoples, an Iraq War veteran, intentionally hit a group of people, some of whom are South Asian, CBS San Francisco reported.
The Tuesday attack injured eight people, including a 13-year-old girl who is in critical condition and remains in a coma, CBS News reported. Her father and brother were also hit.
Peoples has been charged with eight counts of attempted murder, four of which have a sentencing enhancement for causing great bodily injury. Each charge carries a possible life sentence, according to NBC Bay Area.
Police said Peoples told them he intentionally drove into the group as he was on his way to Bible study.
Prosecutors said hate crime allegations are still being investigated and could be added later.
“There is no hate crime allegation charge at this point in time for one reason only: the matter is still being investigated,” Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarski said at a press conference. “[T]here 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.”
“If there is evidence that warrants the filing of a hate crime enhancement on this case…I guarantee you that we will file such a charge.”
Peoples appeared briefly before a judge Friday. He did not enter a plea and is currently being detained without bail. He returns to court on May 16.
Members of Peoples’s family told local media outlets that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq as an Army sharpshooter.
Chuck Smith, Peoples’s defense attorney, said the attack was not premeditated and that his client’s mental state will be the crux of his case.
“Clearly it’s a case that his mental status is the issue. There’s no real issue in terms of what happened, but his mental state is going to be the battleground in the case. We’re going to have him evaluated by the best people we can find because like all veterans, he deserves the best people we can find,” Smith said.
“Here’s a man that, along with a very small percentage of our population of our citizenry that actually served in war, he served our country honorably and admirably and has otherwise led a blameless life. 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.”
Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said Peoples was honorably discharged from the Army and that authorities are investigating if he suffered from PTSD.