On April 25, police discovered evidence that Peoples "intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith," said Phan Ngo, chief of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety. Ngo declined to provide further details, citing an ongoing investigation.
The crash happened at El Camino Real and Saratoga Sunnyvale Road around 6:40 p.m. April 23. According to police, Peoples had picked up food and was taking it to his Bible study group when he drove a black, four-door sedan into a group of pedestrians at a crosswalk and sidewalk. After the crash, a witness said she heard Peoples say, "Thank you Jesus, praise Jesus," and that he appeared to be completely coherent.
Jay Boyarsky, chief assistant district attorney in Santa Clara County, said Peoples has not been charged with a hate crime, but said the evidence that he may have targeted "one or two" of the victims based on their race or religion was "disturbing and appalling."
"If there is evidence that warrants the filing of a hate crime enhancement ... I guarantee you that we will file such a charge," Boyarsky said.
Ngo said the FBI is assisting Sunnyvale officers to determine whether Peoples committed a federal crime. Investigators are also looking at whether his actions were influenced by post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered as a result of his Army service in Iraq from 2005 to 2006.
"The FBI San Francisco Field Office has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident that occurred in Sunnyvale on April 23, 2019," FBI spokeswoman Cameron Polan said in a statement. "As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time."
Peoples' defense attorney, Chuck Smith, said, "this act was clearly a product of some mental disorder or mental defect," and disputed that Peoples drove into the victims intentionally.
"There's no explanation for this other than his (Army) service, what happened to him while serving our country," Smith said.
Smith added that he will push for a resolution that provides mental health treatment for Peoples "rather than simply locking this good man up."
Peoples faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for each charge filed against him, according to Boyarsky.
Peoples made his first appearance in court April 26, and his arraignment was postponed until May 16, when he is expected to enter a plea.
The 13-year-old girl suffered the most serious injuries and has been hospitalized for the last week. A GoFundMe donation page at gofundme.com/helpdhriti has a goal of $500,000 and had raised nearly $524,000 as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Sunnyvale Community Services and the city of Sunnyvale have also set up a donation page for victims at tinyurl.com/sunnyvalecrash.
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