Prosecutors file hate crime charges against man accused of plowing car into California crowd

A 13-year-old suffered brain injuries in the crash. Prosecutors say the suspect targeted two because "he thought they were Muslim and/or Indian."
Image: Isaiah Joel Peoples
Isaiah Joel Peoples appears with defense attorney Richard Weese in Santa Clara County Hall of Justice, in San Jose, Calif. on May 30, 2019.Karl Mondon / San Jose Mercury News via AP, Pool

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By Phil Helsel

Prosecutors in Northern California on Thursday filed hate crime charges against a veteran in the Army Reserve who is accused of plowing his car into a group of pedestrians last month, injuring eight people.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said the two hate-crime allegations would be added to the charges Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, already faces because he "targeted two of the people in the crowd because he thought they were Muslim and/or Indian.”

"Prejudice is not harmless. Someone’s child is in critical condition today because of someone’s ignorance and hatred," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement.

"So today, we stand with her and her family, and all of our Muslim and Indian neighbors,” Rosen said. “We will be steadfast in our work to hold this person criminally responsible for the pain and destruction his abhorrent act has caused the eight people he struck, and our entire community."

There were no deaths in the April 23 crash in Sunnyvale, a town about 40 miles from San Francisco, but a 13-year-old girl was critically injured, officials have said.

That girl, who is of Indian descent, remains in a coma with brain trauma, the Associated Press reported.

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Peoples had previously been charged with eight counts of attempted murder. He is being held without bail, according to online jail records. Prosecutors have said he faces up to life in prison under the attempted murder charges. The hate crime allegations carry up to six additional years each.

Peoples' attorney, Chuck Smith, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday evening.

Smith has said that Peoples' mental state is an issue, and he has raised the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Peoples served in the Army Reserve as a civil affairs specialist from March 2004 to July 2009 and reached the rank of sergeant. He was deployed to Iraq from June 2005 to May 2006, the Army has said.

In a blog post on his website dated Wednesday, Smith said that Peoples "has a known history of post-traumatic stress disorder." Smith said he would seek "a forensic mental health evaluation for an explanation of what may have led to the accident."

Smith also said in Wednesday’s post that Peoples did not intentionally injure anyone.

Prosecutors say Peoples deliberately steered his Toyota Corolla into a crowd of pedestrians crossing El Camino Real at Sunnyvale Avenue just after 6:30 p.m. He crashed the car and was arrested shortly after.

A witness told NBC Bay Area that the driver appeared to be talking about Jesus.

Peoples appeared in court Thursday but did not enter a plea, NBC Bay Area reported. He did not show any emotion as the amended complaint against him was filed.

One of the people injured in the crash, Ping Lu, who is in physical therapy for numerous broken bones, told NBC Bay Area that “every day I suffer” and the other victims are suffering as well. He said he thinks the additional charges are appropriate.

But he told the station he does not hold hatred against the suspect. "I'm not his enemy. He's not mine," he said.

Sunnyvale is a city of around 140,000 in the Bay Area.

Associated Press contributed.