Sunnyvale police: Driver who plowed into pedestrians targeted victims he thought were Muslim

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The driver who plowed into pedestrians in Sunnyvale may have targeted his victims based on race, believing they were Muslim.

“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 Department of Public Safety Chief Phan Ngo said at a press conference Friday. 

34-year-old Isaiah Peoples did not enter a plea at his first court appearance on Friday. He was charged by the Santa Clara District Attorney with eight counts of attempted murder for plowing into victims with his car at El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Saratoga Tuesday night. Peoples is being held without bail and is scheduled to appear in court again on May 16. 

New court documents reveal the most seriously injured is a 13-year-old girl who is in a coma after suffering life-threatening injuries. Legal experts said the defense will likely focus on Peoples state of mind and his mental health.

Just-released court documents reveal “witnesses described the vehicle traveling in the pedestrians' direction at a high rate of speed”and “the acceleration of the engine could be heard.”

Rishi Shukla said his car was directly in front of Peoples' car.  

“I saw a car flying, a guy getting hit and the car landing here,” said Shukla.

Witnesses said Peoples was seen thanking Jesus at the time of his arrest. Family members claim the Iraq war veteran may have been suffering from PTSD.

“If they show that someone was in a psychiatric breakdown, they want to ascertain what was his state of mind at the time this event occurred,” said Legal Analyst Steven Clark.

Clark said the defense will likely request a psychiatric evaluation. Prosecutors will rely on forensic evidence from Peoples car and his computer.

“We still do not know what his motives were,” said Chief Phan Ngo of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety. “The only thing we can confirm as this time is on the day of the incident, he had picked up some food and was on his way to deliver the food to his bible study group.”

Police said Peoples, who worked for a contractor for the Department of the Defense, had no prior criminal history. The only weapon he possessed was an inoperable shotgun found in the trunk of his car.

New court documents also reveal the extent of the victims' injuries. The most serious being a 13-year-old girl in critical condition with brain swelling and a pelvic fracture. Three other victims suffered fractured or broken bones.

“I’m feeling really sad for those people especially the little girl,” said victim Miguel Balbuena. “It was a normal day for her.”

Balbuena was among those hit. He was able to walk away on crutches. He doesn't plan to see Peoples in court, explaining it would be too painful to relive the trauma.