SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Colin Stowell confirmed Monday during a media conference that three people were killed and five were hospitalized with various injuries sustained when a vehicle mowed down pedestrians downtown.
The westbound Volvo station wagon veered off the street in the 1500 block of B between Park Boulevard and 16th Street shortly after 9 a.m. and struck the pedestrians, who were gathered on a sidewalk underneath the bridge amid several tents and various personal items, according to police.
"I don't know if people were sleeping, if people were sitting there," SDPD Chief David Nisleit told reporters during the briefing also attended by Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell. "I have not been given that exact (information)."
While police continued to investigate Monday night, homeless advocates reiterated how important it is for people in need of shelter to use the services available.
“The beds are there for them. We want them to come and utilize those beds so that we can get them into a safe environment, a sanitary environment. We can start working with them and helping them to get on their feet,” said Jim Vargas, Father Joe’s Villages President and CEO.
Vargas said more resources are still needed to move people from a shelter into permanent housing. Still, tragedies like this one not only add to the vulnerability the homeless face but also impacts the people trying to help them.
“It’s a sad day for us downtown, those of us who especially work very closely with those who’re on the streets,” Vargas said.
A memorial for the three people who lost their lives was in place under the bridge Monday evening. Activists and supporters of the homeless community wrote messages on the wall and brought candles and flowers to the scene of the crash. Supporters also said they distributed personal items to those still on the street.
“It was important to come out here today to hand stuff out and make sure people had supplies that they need so that they could mourn their losses,” said one community activist for the homeless population.
News 8 spoke with a man named Ronnie Williams who said he was hit underneath the bridge when the suspect’s car jumped the curb downtown.
“I got dragged by the car that hit the sidewalk. I think I was the last person that was hit because I was on the front of the hood of the car when the car swerved to the other side of the road and I just sat there. I couldn’t move for like five minutes,” he said.
During an afternoon briefing, San Diego Police Chief Nisleit said that the suspected driver of the vehicle was in custody. Craig M. Voss, a 71-year-old resident of the city of San Diego is under arrest for three counts of vehicular manslaughter, five counts of causing great bodily injury while committing a felony, and one count of felony DUI.
Police said the suspect identified himself as the person who was driving the vehicle involved in the incident and tried to render aid to the victims who were hit prior to the arrival of emergency crews. After being questioned by officers, he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Mayor Gloria said during the briefing that "most, if not all, sheltering under that bridge were homeless.”
WATCH: San Diego officials give an update on mass-casualty traffic crash at 2:30 p.m.:
The fatally injured victims died at the scene of the wreck, said Nisleit, who offered his "deepest condolences" to the families of the deceased. Paramedics took six others to hospitals for treatment of injuries varying from life-threatening to less severe.
Just prior to the wreck, police got a call from a person reporting a possibly intoxicated driver about a mile from the downtown college in a vehicle matching the description of the suspect's Volvo, according to Nisleit. Investigators believe it was the same car that crashed onto the crowded sidewalk minutes later, the chief said.
The stretch of street where the crash occurred was expected to remain closed to the public through the day, the police chief said.