SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – An Iraq War veteran deliberately drove into a group of pedestrians because he thought some of the people were Muslim, California authorities said on Friday.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, faces eight counts of attempted murder for injuring eight people, including four who remain hospitalized. The most seriously injured is a 13-year-old Sunnyvale girl from South Asian descent who is in a coma with a severe brain trauma.
"New evidence shows that the defendant deliberately targeting the victims based on their race and his belief that they They were of the Muslim faith, "said Phan Ngo, Sunnyvale police chief.
Peoples briefly appeared in the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday. He did not enter a plea and was held without bail.
The former U.S. Army sharpshooter experienced a post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, his family said. People's Attorney, Chuck Smith, said that the crash was in no way deliberate.
Smith said after the hearing that they do not dispute what happened, but that his client's mental state is the issue.
"He served Smith said, "So there's no explanation for this other than his service, the things he saw, and what happened to him mentally while serving our country."
Peoples was on his way to a Bible class Tuesday in the Silicon Valley suburb of Sunnyvale, when he told investigators he deliberately drove into a group of men, women and children, police said. The 13-year-old girl was hit along with her father and brother, who had minor injuries.
Related: Vintage crime photos from the New York Daily News
13 PHOTOS  Vintage crime photos from the Daily News
Jay Boyarsky, chief assistant district attorney for Santa Clara, said the charges carry a sentence of life in prison.
"There is very appalling and disturbing 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," he
Three adults also remain hospitalized with injuries that include broken limbs.
People said no remorse after his car was plowed at high speed into a group of people in a crosswalk before hitting a tree, Ngo said.
Witness Don Draper said he marched over to Peoples' car after he crashed, and he found the driver muttering over and over, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you Jesus."
But Ngo said that "he did not behave in Any way that would be considered bizarre, "when taken into custody."
Family and friends described Peoples as quiet and polite and expressed shock at his involvement. His mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said her son had a "bad episode" with PTSD in 2015, for which she was hospitalized.
Peoples was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
Peoples were honored discharged from the Army, and police were investigating the PTSD report, Ngo said. According to the police chief, Peoples had no criminal records and owned one weapon, a disassembled and inoperable shotgun that was in the trunk of his vehicle.
Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this report.