SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — A 34-year-old man arrested after a wild rampage with his car on a Sunnyvale street left eight people injured including a 13-year-old girl who remains hospitalized will be charged with two hate crime counts, Santa Clara prosecutors announced Thursday.
Prosecutors claim that Isaiah Peoples “targeted two of the people in the crowd because he thought they were Muslim and/or Indian.” He also faces eight counts of attempted murder and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
“Someone’s child is in critical condition because of someone’s ignorance and hatred,” said District Attorney Jeff Rosen in a statement. “So today, we stand with her and her family, and all of our Muslim and Indian neighbors. 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.”
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Just after 6:30 p.m. on April 23, investigators said Peoples intentionally steered his Toyota Corolla into a crowd of pedestrians crossing El Camino Real at Sunnyvale Avenue. Among the others hurt aside from 13-year-old Dhiriti Doe were the girl’s father and younger brother.
Peoples then crashed his car after the attack and was taken into custody by Sunnyvale officers. He is being held without bail in Santa Clara County Jail.
“I saw him hit that girl, and she flew up in the air in front of me upside down, her feet to the sky and she fell head first on the pavement right in front of my car,” said Don Draper of Sunnyvale, who witnessed the carnage on April 23rd.
Draper said he attended the court hearing hoping to understand more.
“Apparently, everybody is surprised he had anti-Muslim sentiments,” Draper said.
Reports say Peoples, a 34-year-old Iraq War veteran who suffers from PTSD, has Muslim relatives.
The District Attorney was asked about that. “We feel very confident in the hate crime charges, but certainly there will be a trial and that will be one of the issues during the trial,” Rosen said.
Before the hate crime enhancements, Peoples was already facing eight counts of attempted murder, charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life if convicted. Hate crime convictions would only add six years to a potential life sentence .
“The DA’s office is in a position where they have to send a message that hate crimes are vigorously prosecuted,” said Steve Clark, a former prosecutor, and legal analyst.
A defense lawyer was not available for comment but Clark says the defense case will likely come down to psychiatric evaluations of Mr. Peoples which could point to severe mental illness brought on by his 18 months as an American combat soldier.
Peoples will be back in court on July 11th, to enter a plea.
A GoFundMe page set up to help Dhriti Doe had raised more than $623,000 as of Thursday morning.
Len Ramirez contributed to this report.