An Iraq War veteran accused of intentionally driving his car into a group of pedestrians, injuring eight people, targeted the crowd because he believed they were Muslims, police and prosecutors said at a press conference Friday.
Isaiah Joel Peoples is believed to have deliberately veered his car into eight people who were walking on a crowded crosswalk in Northern California Tuesday, hitting seven pedestrians before crashing into a tree.
"New evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith," Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said.
There was no evidence that Peoples slowed down; instead, he allegedly appeared to accelerate as he approached the crowd.
On Friday, Peoples was charged with eight counts of attempted murder, four of which have a sentencing enhancement of causing great bodily injury.
Each of the charges carried a maximum possible sentence of life in prison, said Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky.
Police and prosecutors did not provide details on how authorities became aware Peoples targeted some of the victims over their assumed faith, but Ngo said the evidence was uncovered late Thursday evening.
"There is very disturbing and appalling 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," Boyarsky said.
No hate crime enhancement has been filed as of Friday, Boyarsky said, but he added that was because the case remains under investigation.
"If there is evidence that warrants the filing of a hate crime enhancement in this case, in addition to all the charges that carry a potential sentence of life in prison, I guarantee you that we will file such a charge," he said.
The FBI is assisting local authorities in the investigation, officials said.
One witness to the crash told the Mercury News Peoples appeared to be repeatedly mumbling to himself after the attack, "I love you, Jesus," at the crash site.
The US Army confirmed Peoples served as a civil affairs specialist in the Army Reserve from March 2004 to July 2009, where he achieved the rank of sergeant. He served in Iraq from June 2005 to May 2006.
His brother, Joshua Peoples, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Peoples was at a psychiatric hospital for a year in 2015.
"He’s always just trying to do good for himself," Joshua Peoples said about his brother. "I really believe him going to the Army and Afghanistan messed up his mental health."
Boyarsky and Ngo declined to comment when asked about the possibility that Peoples may have PTSD.
"We're going to hold this man accountable for the horrible crimes that were committed," Boyarsky said.