Man arrested in California ramming crash that injured 8 was Iraq war vet who suffered from PTSD: Mom

Suspect Isaiah Joel Peoples served in the Army Reserve from 2004 to 2009.

April 25, 2019, 6:53 PM

The man arrested on suspicion of deliberately running down eight people, including two children, with his car in Northern California is a former Army Reserve sharpshooter who came home from a tour of duty in Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother told ABC News.

Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, was charged this week with eight counts of attempted murder stemming from the horrific crash Tuesday night in the San Jose suburb of Sunnyvale.

A felony complaint filed in Santa Clara County, California, Superior Court on Thursday charged that Peoples "willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation" attempted to murder the eight pedestrians he ran over.

This photo released Wednesday, April 24, 2019, by the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety shows Isaiah Joel Peoples.
Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety via AP

"Having him in jail is not where he should be. He needs to be treated," Peoples' mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, told ABC News on Thursday.

She said she is "100% sure" her son's battle with PTSD had something to do with the crash.

Citing witness statements, Jim Choi of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said Peoples' car did not appear to slow down or attempt to brake before it hit pedestrians in the crosswalk and on the sidewalk around 6:30 p.m. After striking the eight victims, ranging from age 9 to 52, Peoples' vehicle slammed into a tree, police said.

"It looks like it may have been an intentional act," Choi said at a news conference on Wednesday. "All of that is under investigation at this time. ... We know that this is an isolated event in that no one is outstanding, no danger to the community."

Having him in jail is not where he should be. He needs to be treated

Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said on Thursday that a motive in the case remains under investigation.

A car ran over at least eight pedestrians in what was possibly an intentional act in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Tuesday night, April 23, 2019.

Ngo confirmed that Peoples, the son of a minister who died in 2011, was on his way to a Bible study class when he allegedly drove into the crowd. He said Peoples had picked up food for the class and was on his way to deliver it when the crash unfolded.

He said Peoples “has not shown any remorse,” but added, "When we took him into custody, he did not behave in any manner that would be considered bizarre to us."

"At this time there is no indication of any ties to terrorism," Ngo said.

He said two of the victims remained hospitalized on Thursday, including a 13-year-old girl who is in critical condition.

Peoples, who lives in Sunnyvale, enlisted in the Army Reserve in March 2004 and served until 2009, reaching the rank of sergeant, according to his military record. He was deployed to Iraq from June 2005 to May 2006, his military record shows.

Bicycles lie at the scene of a car crash in Sunnyvale, Calif., where eight people were injured on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

Leevell Peoples told ABC News that her son was discharged from the military, in part, because he had PTSD. The military would not comment on her claim.

"When he first came home [from Iraq], they had him on some medication," the mother said. "He was seeing doctors at some point at the military hospital here in Sacramento. He'd go in for meetings and they would give him his meds, and he'd talk and they'd have group meetings with other people who are suffering from the same or similar type situations. So, yes, he was doing a lot of different things with the military as far as them checking it and keeping up with it."

She said at some point he was taken off his medication.

At this time there is no indication of any ties to terrorism

"I didn't know it stopped until he had an episode, or outbreak, from it [PTSD] in 2015," the mother said. "So, all I know is he told me they had taken him off and said he didn't need it anymore."

Police investigate the scene of car crash at the intersection of El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Road in Sunnyvale, Calif., April 24, 2019.
Cody Glenn/AP

In 2015, she said her son was arrested in Sacramento for throwing a rock through the window of an occupied home while walking in a neighborhood in his bare feet.

"He was walking down the street and he thought he was in Iraq, and he picked up a rock and he threw it and it hit a window," she said.

She said that police who arrested her son took him to a hospital to be evaluated.

"When I got to the hospital, he was asking the person who was guarding him at the hospital, 'How many people were killed today?' And she said, 'Nobody was killed today.' He said, 'I heard all the gunshots,'" the mother said.

"He was thinking or feeling as if he were in Iraq. And she said, 'Nobody was shot today, Isaiah.' And he said, 'Wow, that's amazing. I heard all the gunshots and nobody got shot? That's good,'" the mother added.

She said her son believed people were constantly following him.

"At that point, he was really afraid. He had a lot of paranoia," she said.

She said her son went back on his medication and sought professional help. He seemed to be improving and earlier this year landed a position as an auditor in training for the Department of Defense, she said.

The mother said her son even tried to re-enlist in the military in 2017, but was rejected.

She said she does not know if her son went off his medication.

"Two weeks ago we were on the phone and I said, 'Are you still taking your medication?' And he said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Yeah, that's good.' I said, 'You have to take that the rest of your life now.' He said, 'I know,'" she said.

She said in recent days he was having problems at work and feared he would not make it through his probationary period.

"He just really keeps things inside and that really triggers his PTSD when you start talking about his job or his performance," Leevell Peoples said.

She said she spoke to her son by phone on Tuesday, hours before the crash in Sunnyvale. She said he didn't sound troubled, and they spoke of his dog, who she cares for, and he promised to send her money to get his pet groomed.

Leevell Peoples said she does not believe her son would deliberately run people over with his car, although she has not spoken to him since his arrest.

"I know with 100% certainty that my son did not do that on purpose. No way ever," she said.

ABC News' Luis Martinez and Alex Stone contributed to this report.