She was a respected nurse. Now she's accused of killing 5 in horrific Windsor Hills crash

Nicole Linton appears in Los Angeles Superior Court for arraignment on murder charges stemming from a traffic accident, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Los Angeles. Linton, suspected of causing a fiery crash that killed five people and an 8 1/2-month-old fetus near Los Angeles, has been charged with murder, as well as vehicular manslaughter, and is being held on $9 million bail. (Frederick M. Brown/Daily via AP, Pool)
Nicole Linton appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court for her arraignment on murder charges. (Frederick M. Brown / Pool via Associated Press)

Nicole Lorraine Linton was a traveling nurse who picked up shifts across the country, working for short stretches where she was needed.

Her job took her to North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and finally to California, where she has been licensed since 2021, most recently working at Kaiser Permanente's West Los Angeles Medical Center.

But her movements on Aug. 4 had deadly consequences, prosecutors say.

Surveillance video shows a speeding sedan approaching the busy intersection at La Brea and Slauson avenues shortly after 1:30 that afternoon. Authorities say Linton was behind the wheel of the Mercedes and was traveling 90 mph when she blew through a light that had been red for nine seconds and barreled into passing traffic.

Mourners gather this week at the Desmond'z Salon in Los Angeles, to pay respects to employee Nathesia Lewis
Mourners gather this week at the Desmond'z Salon in Los Angeles, to pay respects to employee Nathesia Lewis a Windsor Hills crash victim. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The fiery, multi-vehicle crash left five people dead, including a pregnant woman and a baby.

Linton, 37, is now facing six counts of murder and five counts of gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with the deadly collision.

Authorities are still trying to piece together Linton's movements and what led her to be driving so fast and recklessly, sources told The Times.

Linton's family has declined to comment.

Investigators have said she was involved in up to 13 wrecks before the Windsor Hills crash. Her attorney has indicated she suffers from mental health issues. Law enforcement sources told The Times that detectives are trying to determine whether she had taken any prescribed medication prior to the crash.

But friends and colleagues are struggling to come to grips with how the woman they knew as a consummate professional and kind caregiver could be involved in such a horrific chain of events.

"This is completely out of left field. I am absolutely shocked," said a college friend of Linton's who requested anonymity. "I was gut-wrenched. ... I saw her picture on a blog, and I honestly thought she was one of the victims."

"I am at tears that it was Nicole. What a tragedy," former co-worker Alicia Hurley, who worked with Linton at West Houston Hospital, told The Times.

An official near the crash site
A law enforcement official walks by the scene of the deadly crash in Windsor Hills. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

But friends and family of those killed in the crash that prosecutors say Linton caused are less interested in her background and what may have led to the deadly collision and more concerned that she face justice in their deaths.

Among the dead are 23-year-old Asherey Ryan; her 11-month-old child, Alonzo Quintero; her boyfriend, Reynold Lester; and their unborn child. Ryan was 8½ months pregnant when she was killed. The boy she was carrying had been named Armani Lester, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Two additional women killed in the crash have yet to be identified by authorities, but loved ones said they were Nathesia Lewis, 42, and Lynette Noble, 38.

"She has to pay for what she did," said Clarence "Moezart" Hamlin, Lewis' boyfriend. "She can't get away with this."

Despite the massive damage during the collision, Linton suffered only moderate injuries. A law enforcement source told The Times she suffered a broken foot and broken wrist. Photographs posted online after the crash appear to show Linton sitting on the curb with blood on her arm and pants. She seems to be wearing hospital scrub pants and a shirt that has writing on the breastplate and sleeve.

Some Angelenos have made a pilgrimage to the intersection to grieve, erecting makeshift memorials for those killed. The deadly crash has outraged the community, with many wondering how a nurse who authorities say is linked to so many prior crashes has kept her driver's license.

"Her taking my sister, my nephews, my brother-in-law. She took my son's only cousin. We are so deeply hurt," Sha'seana Kerr, Ryan's sister, said the day after the crash.

“A young family was destroyed in the blink of an eye,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in announcing charges against Linton.

If she was psychologically unwell, she hid it, her friends said.

A baby car seat lies on the road
A baby car seat lies at the intersection of La Brea and Slauson avenues. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Linton graduated with a degree in marketing from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 2007, only pivoting toward a career in nursing after, according to her friend from college. She worked as a technician during nursing school, then as an intensive care unit nurse. She eventually became a travel nurse, working for contracting giant AMN Healthcare starting in 2020.

She was "very inviting, bubbly. An extremely hard-worker" with a bright smile, said her friend, who lived in the same dormitory as Linton at Howard.

Five years after graduating from Howard, Linton moved to Laredo, Texas, where she worked as an operating room technician at Laredo Medical Center while traveling back and forth to Houston to get her bachelor's degree in nursing, a former co-worker said.

"She was a highly motivated person, I would say, considering she had a different undergrad and became an operating room technician — totally changing fields," said Arnulfo Salazar, who worked with and socialized with Linton in Laredo.

Salazar said that for part of her time in town, Linton did not own a car. He said they went to parties together, often barbecues in friends' backyards, and while he did not notice any psychological issues, Salazar said that Linton could get gloomy.

"She was by herself here, so she would be a little down about being alone," he said.

Then Linton moved full time to Houston, where she studied anesthesia at a graduate level at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

In Houston, she met Hurley, who recalled her as a hard-working and pleasant surgical technician at West Houston Hospital who had many friends. Linton then went on to nursing school and began work as an ICU nurse, Hurley said.

"She was kind and considerate of her patients and loved her job. ... She was an achiever," Hurley said.

But as her career progressed, Linton began to accumulate car crashes, prosecutors say. In 2013, she failed to accelerate at a green light in Laredo and was rear-ended, according to Texas Department of Transportation data. In 2016, the same thing happened in Houston. She was not at fault in either of those crashes.

But the results of the Aug. 4 crash were far different.

"I don't know anything that could have put her in the space," Linton's college friend said of events leading to the fatal Windsor Hills crash.

"My heart breaks," Hurley said.

But also broken are the families of those who lost their lives. Ryan's younger sister, Cotie Davis, 20, remembered how she used to do Ryan's hair and how they both were studying for college degrees in criminal justice.

“I cannot imagine not having her at my graduation,” Davis said before bursting into tears.

Times staff writer Jonah Valdez contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.