Jury selection starts in former Pomona teacher’s attempted murder trial

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This photo of Augustine Anene is from his profile on a Nigerian newspaper website called Vanguard Online Community.

FONTANA – Jury selection has started in the trial of a former Garey High School computer instructor accused of trying to kill his estranged wife.

Augustine Anene, 54, is charged with attempted murder and other crimes for allegedly hiding in his wife’s bedroom closet in March, and emerging to attack her after she fell asleep.

Anene’s son interrupted the attack after he heard his mother screaming for help in the family’s Fontana home, according to a police report attached to Anene’s court file.

Attorneys in the case began choosing a jury Tuesday in Fontana Superior Court. The trial will next be in session Monday, with the case still in the jury selection phase, according to courtroom personnel.

Anene worked at Garey High School in Pomona for 18 years before resigning from his job the month after the alleged attack, according to a Pomona Unified School District spokesman.

He has remained jailed since his arrest in lieu of $1.2 million bail.

According to the police report, Anene’s wife of 19 years filed for divorce in December after a history of unreported domestic violence.

Anene’s wife obtained a restraining order against her husband, who moved into an apartment in Upland after the couple separated.

Anene’s wife told police she awoke the night of March 28 with her husband choking her and punching her in the face.

One of the couple’s sons kicked open her bedroom door, which was locked, and pushed Anene off his wife. The son held down Anene until police arrived.

The police report describes planning measures Anene may have taken to avoid capture by authorities.

The phones in his family’s home had been hidden prior to the attack. Anene’s car was without license plates when police found it parked three blocks away.

Prosecutors mull plea offer in off-duty officers’ rape case

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Pictured (L-R): Anthony Nicholas Orban and Jeff Thomas Jelinek

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Prosecutors are considering whether to offer a plea bargain to a correctional officer accused of aiding his friend in the alleged kidnap and rape of a woman at gunpoint.

The prosecutor in Anthony Orban and Jeff Jelinek’s criminal case said today after a brief court hearing that her supervisors will ultimately decide whether to offer Jelinek a plea bargain.

“They don’t know if they’re going to make them an offer,” Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus said. “They’re kind of going back and forth.”

Jelinek, who worked at the California Institution for Men in Chino, is accused of standing by as Orban, a Westminster police detective, allegedly kidnapped a woman at gunpoint in the parking lot at Ontario Mills.

Both men were off-duty and had been drinking heavily prior to the April 3 incident.

The woman, a 25-year-old waitress and mother, testified last month in a preliminary hearing that after she was kidnapped, Orban sexually assaulted and battered her for more than an hour.

Orban, who is charged with nine felonies, faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life. Jelinek, 31, faces the same penalty because prosecutors allege he aided and abetted Orban.

Jelinek’s presence beside Orban during the alleged kidnapping helped Orban by further intimidating the woman, prosecutors believe.

Jelinek picked up Orban after the alleged assault, attempted to erase text messages from Orban, and initially lied to police about what he saw, according to prosecutors.

One of Jelinek’s attorneys, Ciprian Turcu, said he and Ploghaus have had informal discussions about a possible plea bargain for Jelinek. He said there hasn’t been a definitive offer.

Orban and Jelinek’s appearance today in West Valley Superior Court was largely uneventful. An Oct. 15 court date was scheduled for defense attorneys to introduce pre-trial motions in the case.

Turcu said he doesn’t believe a trial will be held in the case until next year.

Witnesses detail fatal La Verne drunken driving crash

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Pictured (L-R): Renee Hardy and Telassie Dague.

POMONA — Tatiana Jaimes could tell that her childhood friend was too drunk to drive.

So when she saw Telassie Dague take her car keys out of her bra in January at a San Dimas bowling alley, Jaimes grabbed them out of her hand and told her not to drive.

Alan Michael McConnell, Dague’s friend, was standing nearby. He was visibly drunk, Jaimes testified today in Pomona Superior Court.

“(McConnell) grabbed my wrist and took the keys,” Jaimes said. “He was like, ‘I’m driving.’”
Jaimes told him he was too drunk to drive, and continued arguing with him until Dague interrupted.

“Lassie was like, ‘Just let him drive,’” Jaimes said.

Not long after McConnell snatched Dague’s keys, he drove her car into a tree along Foothill Boulevard in La Verne.

Dague, 22, and another passenger, 20-year-old Renee Hardy, were killed in the Jan. 23 crash. McConnell, 27, emerged from the car without serious injuries.

Blood tests revealed his blood-alcohol level was 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit, and he was charged with two counts of murder and other criminal charges.

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This morning at McConnell’s preliminary hearing, Jaimes and several other people testified about the crash, and a judge ruled that prosecutors presented enough evidence for McConnell’s case to proceed to trial.

The Covina man could face a prison sentence of 30 years to life if convicted of two counts of second-degree murder — charges he faces because he was convicted of drunken driving prior to the fatal crash.

McConnell was convicted of drunken driving last year in Orange County, and was again arrested for drunken driving in November.

McConnell, who wore blue jail scrubs in court, cried during much of the two-hour preliminary hearing and wiped tears from his face with a tissue.

His mother said in an interview that her son is remorseful and heartbroken.

Valerie Kennedy said McConnell and Dague were lifelong friends and were a couple “to some extent.” McConnell brings her picture to all of his court appearances, his mother said.

McConnell has said he has no memory of the crash, according to Kennedy.

“If he could take it all back, he would,” she said.

Jaimes testified that on the night of Jan. 22, she and a friend met Dague, McConnell and Hardy at the bar inside Chaparral Lanes. All three of them appeared drunk, she said.

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It was Jaimes’ first time meeting McConnell, who was introduced to her as “Brad.”

While the group was at the bar, McConnell suggested several times that the group drive to Fullerton.

Jaimes testified that she kept telling McConnell he was too drunk to drive, but he insisted on driving.

It was after midnight when the group decided they would take separate cars and meet at a bar closer to the bowling alley — the Hi-Brow on Foothill Boulevard in Upland.

As Jaimes and her friend walked to Jaimes’ car in the parking lot, she saw Dague’s car pass by.

“I saw the car speed by,” Jaimes said. “I was like, ‘Oh God,’ because it was going so fast.”

McConnell and his two passengers traveled about three miles before McConnell ran a red light at Foothill and Damien Avenue in La Verne and collided with another car.

According to the driver of the other car, McConnell activated his turn signal as if to indicate he was pulling over. Instead, he drove away at speeds later measured at 70 mph.

The driver, Bryan Sanchez, testified that McConnell’s car hit the curb on the right side of the roadway, then made a hard left turn over the median and collided with a tree.

By the time police and paramedics arrived, one of McConnell’s passengers was dead. The other was moments from dying, according to police testimony.

McConnell was knocked unconscious in the crash, and regained consciousness after police and paramedics arrived. His only other injury was a cut to his elbow, according to testimony from La Verne police officers.

After paramedics removed McConnell from the driver’s seat of the car, he told officers he wasn’t the driver.

He again changed his story at the scene, telling officers he wasn’t in the car, but had been dropped off after the crash by another driver, Cpl. Chris Fenner testified.

McConnell’s attorney, Rita Smith, said after the hearing that she believes life would too long of a sentence for McConnell.

“He understands,” Smith said. “He feels the pain the same that everyone else does. I think that should count for something.”

Smith said she’s not sure whether prosecutors are open to offering McConnell a plea bargain that carries a sentence shorter than life. She declined to say whether there have been any plea negotiations in the case.

McConnell’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Miji Vellakkatel, declined to comment to a reporter after the hearing. Dague’s parents also declined to comment.

McConnell is next due in court Aug. 10. He remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

Veteran prosecutor supports Pomona PD

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In a “point of view” column on the opinion page of today’s Daily Bulletin, Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos urged the Pomona City Council not to disband the city’s police department. Here’s his full column:

Don’t replace Pomona police

By Richard Ceballos

Created: 07/25/2010 07:47:22 PM PDT

An open letter to Pomona’s mayor and City Council members:

As a 20-year veteran criminal prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and a 10-year-plus resident of the city of Pomona, I urge you not to move forward with plans to replace the Pomona Police Department with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Despite what you may have been told, or what you may have been led to believe, a change to the Sheriff’s Department will not be a change for the better as far as the law-abiding citizens of Pomona are concerned.

Simply put, there is no way the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will provide the same level of service and accountability to the residents of Pomona as the Pomona Police Department has been doing for all these years. I have worked in a number of cities that have contracted with the Sheriff’s Department before, and the level of services provided by them to those cities versus the level of services currently provided by the Pomona Police Department cannot even be compared. The Pomona department’s level of service easily surpasses that of most police departments in this county.

This fact is based on almost seven years as a prosecutor specially assigned to the Pomona courthouse, where I have personally witnessed, on a day-to-day basis, the efforts and dedication the Pomona police officers have exhibited in combating crime in this city.

Furthermore, you need to understand that if the city elects to “hire” the Sheriff’s Department, that department will not be accountable solely to the city of Pomona and its residents. The Sheriff’s Department must also concern itself with and be accountable to all the other cities it has contracts with, not to mention all the unincorporated areas of L.A. County.

If you, as the elected representatives in this city, are truly concerned about the future of Pomona, instead of wasting time seeking to replace the Police Department, you would better spend your energies developing ways to support the department.

This is a pivotal point in time for the city of Pomona. Do the right thing. Do the smart thing. Keep the Pomona Police Department intact. I promise you the citizens of Pomona will remember your decision come election time.

Richard Ceballos is a deputy district attorney with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He lives in Pomona.

Past president accused of embezzling from booster club for Ayala High School girls basketball team

CHINO — A man identified by prosecutors as a past president of the booster club for Ayala High School’s girls basketball team has been charged with two felonies for allegedly embezzling from the club.

Prosecutors accuse Donald Williamson, 49, of taking more than $400 from the club between Nov. 20 and Dec. 1.

Williamson, of Chino Hills, was charged July 7 with embezzlement and grand theft, and is due in Chino Superior Court Aug. 18 for an arraignment.

Williamson’s ex-wife said today that she she was unaware of the allegations against her husband. She said she didn’t believe her former husband was capable of stealing from a high school booster club.

Pamela Williamson said her husband, a professional cook, was a good man and good father, and was honest during their marriage. She said the couple’s daughter attends Ayala, in Chino Hills.

Details about Williamson’s alleged theft, including the exact amount prosecutors believe he stole, were unavailable this week.

The San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who investigated the case did not return messages seeking comment.

The team’s former head coach, Mel Sims, did not return a call seeking comment today. Sims retired as coach last month after 17 seasons with the team.

A spokeswoman for the Chino Valley Unified School District said district administrators were unaware of the case prior to being contacted by a reporter.

The prosecutor who reviewed the sheriff’s department’s investigation and filed criminal charges against Williamson declined to discuss the case.

Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell said he didn’t want to comment on the case because it’s so early in the litigation.

According to San Bernardino County court records, Williamson was convicted of a misdemeanor in August 2008 for disturbing the peace and placed on probation for three years.

Sister of Pomona shooting victim delivers victim-impact statement

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Pictured: Rudy Partida III

Andrew Lopez Jr. — convicted killer of Rudy Partida — returned to Pomona Superior Court on Thursday for a hearing in which Partida’s sister, Veronica Gutierrez, read a statement about her brother’s killing.

Gutierrez and many of Partida’s other relatives were angry last month after prosecutors offered Lopez a plea bargain for four years in state prison, which he accepted. Lopez potentially faced a sentence of at least 75 years to life if convicted of murder and other sentencing enhancements.

Continue to the bottom of his post to view the program from Partida’s memorial service. Here’s the full statement Gutierrez read in court Thursday:

To The Honorable Judge Horan

My name is Veronica and I am the sister of Rudy Partida, III, deceased. I am here today to make a statement about how the murder of my brother Rudy has affected me. Since the loss of my brother, my family and I have been plagued with confusion, depression, and anger. The internal stress that all of these feelings have caused on my body and mind are irreversible, and can not be erased. Here are the details I would like to address in this statement:

Confusion: I have been confused since the day I found out my brother Rudy had been shot. I was confused about how it happened, why it happened, and who was responsible. Once I found out who was responsible, I was confused as to why this person would cower and hide from authorities. Once caught, I was confused as to why a person would lie; lie to cover up the truth, lie to your Honor, lie to his own family, lie to the world, lie to himself. Now that the court proceedings are over, I am confused as to what I did in this life to deserve to have my brother Rudy taken from me, without a legitimate reason, without permission, without answers. I know I have done all I can to be a hard worker, a good student, and a positive role model in my community, but where did I go wrong? All of this confusion has led me to depression.

Depression: I have never in my life experienced so much pain. Pain for myself, pain for the loss of my brother, pain for my family. I have to live each day without my brother Rudy. Some days I can accept this fact, other days, I am so sad and brokenhearted that my demeanor affects the way I interact with co-workers, children, and family. It is not fair to those around me to have to feel this depression. It is not fair to me, to have to go through this depression. I did not ask for this. The worst part is when I think about my niece, Rudy’s god-daughter, who has started crying unexpectedly because she misses her “nino” Rudy. What justification is there for a five-year old to cry, to mourn, and to be sad over someone she will never see again? This is where my anger begins.

Anger: Everybody gets angry at some point or another. Some people get angry with themselves, angry with a loved one, angry with a stranger. I am angered because I have no understanding of what I did in this life to deserve my brother Rudy to be taken from me? What did I do that was so horrible that I now have to go through these feelings of confusion, depression, and anger? Why is it that I have to live my life without my brother Rudy, but the very person who took him from me gets to still breathe? The most frustrating part is to see my family live in pain; to see Rudy’s and my grandmother and mother cry with tears of dejection. They too have had a part of their heart ripped from them without reason. I am also angered because my brother Rudy will not be around for the future celebrations in my life. I am mostly angered by the fact that my brother was left to die because, everyone who was around when he was shot, cowered and ran away without helping to save his life. Anyone could have just dialed 9-1-1 and left the phone on the floor and that would have been enough. But no, since he was left to die, my faith in humanity of the people involved has diminished to nothing. I’m sure each and every person involved would have wanted someone to get help for their loved ones had they been in the same predicament. It is all this confusion, depression, and anger that I must carry around with me everyday for the rest of my life because my brother Rudy was taken from me marked by injustice.

Now, I understand that death is a part of the life cycle, but death comes when we are old or too sick to go on; death is not supposed to come to a person because someone else chooses to take that person’s life. In the end, the loss of my brother Rudy will always be an unfair tragedy in my life. It is more tragic that his children and grandchildren will never get to see my brother Rudy again. So, Your Honorable Horan, I stand before you today to share with you how my brother’s murder has affected me. My hope is that each person in this court cherishes their loved ones every moment they can and that no one in this court has to lose a loved one as a result of someone else’s violent decision.

Here’s the program from Rudy Partida’s memorial service.

Front and back covers:

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Inside:

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Upland man accused of holding knife to grandfather’s neck

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An Upland man has been charged with numerous crimes for allegedly harassing his grandparents and threatening them with a knife.

Jack Clifford Eckman’s alleged threats reached an apex June 30 when he held a knife to his grandfather’s neck, according to a police report attached to his court file.

Eckman, 22, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges contained in a six-count complaint filed by prosecutors on July 7.

Eckman faces two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of making criminal threats, grand theft and petty theft. All but petty theft are felonies.

Eckman’s grandparents told police that their grandson used to live at their home in the 300 block of South Greentree Road in Upland, but moved out prior to his June 30 visit.

Eckman was waiting in his grandparents’ driveway when they arrived home that afternoon, and he demanded some of his belongings he said he left behind at the house, according to the police report.

His grandparents told him none of his things were there and walked inside. Eckman followed them and continued to argue with them, his grandparents told police.

After Eckman’s grandmother reminded Eckman that he had a court date in August, he became angry and pulled out a knife, according to the report.

He held the knife over his head with the blade pointing down, and walked within two or three feet of his grandmother. He stuck the blade into a door jamb, then reportedly told his grandmother, “I should kill you.”

Eckman later held the knife to his grandfather’s throat and threatened to slit his throat, his grandparents told police.

Three days later, Eckman returned and again demanded property he claimed he left at his grandparents’ house. Eckman again threatened to kill his relatives.

When Eckman’s grandmother called police from her cell phone, Eckman grabbed the phone out of her hand and left on his bicycle.

Police arrested Eckman later that day in the 400 block of West Winn Drive.

San Bernardino County court records show that Eckman was convicted of drunken driving two years ago.

He has five other active criminal cases in the county, in which he’s charged with a total of 10 misdemeanors, including battering an elder and drug possession.

He remains jailed in lieu of $260,000 bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Leader of local identity theft ring convicted

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Pictured: Raymond Rubalcava

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A man described by prosecutors as the leader of a local identity theft ring accepted a plea bargain in his criminal case today that carries an eight-year prison sentence.

Raymond Rubalcava, 28, was accused of manufacturing counterfeit checks and recruiting other people to cash them at local grocery stores and check cashing businesses, said Deputy District Attorney Mike Abney.

Seven of Rubalcava’s co-conspirators have also been convicted in the case. Rubalcava and three others were the final defendants to be convicted today when they accepted plea bargains in West Valley Superior Court, Abney said.

Rubalcava was arrested at a hotel in Ontario on Jan. 25 after San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies received a tip that Rubalcava was creating counterfeit checks.

In Rubalcava’s hotel room, deputies found businesses’ banking information and evidence that he was using the information to manufacture fake checks.

Abney said Rubalcava created fake checks using information from three Ontario businesses — two real estate companies and a warehouse — as well as a Rancho Cucamonga homebuilder and a party rental company.

Rubalcava and his co-conspirators will likely be ordered by a judge to pay restitution to the businesses, Abney said.

Rubalcava is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28.

The other seven defendants in the case are:

– Johnny Medina, 41, was sentenced today to four years and eight months in prison.

– Peter Torres, 25, agreed today to a plea bargain that carries three years and eight months in prison. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next month, Abney said.

– Richard Trujillo, 40 or 41, was sentenced today to three years in prison.

– Robert Roark, 51 or 52, has agreed to a plea bargain that carries three years in prison.

– Andrea Richards, 29, pleaded guilty to four felonies in April as part of a plea bargain that carries a two-years prison term.

– Crystal Rivera, 24, agreed to a plea bargain that carries a maximum jail term of one year.

– Amanda Andrews, 26, pleaded guilty to three felonies in April and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Megaw retrial set for Aug. 23

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An Aug. 23 retrial date has been scheduled in James Andrew Megaw’s molestation case. The former elementary school teacher is charged with four felonies for allegedly touching students in a sexual manner.

Megaw’s first trial ended in a mistrial in May after a jury deadlocked in its deliberations. A prosecutor said last month that family members of Megaw’s accusers expressed a desire for a retrial.

Megaw’s new trial date was scheduled Friday, when he appeared in West Valley Superior Court for a pre-trial hearing. Attorneys estimated a trial will last four weeks, according to minutes of the hearing.

Five students testified during Megaw’s trial that the former teacher at Valencia Elementary School in Upland fondled their genitals in class, and in somes case touched himself while touching them. A sixth student said Megaw made a sexual comment to him in a bathroom.

Megaw, a 43-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident, was the head of Upland’s teachers union before criminal charges were filed two years ago.

Prosecutors offer Glendora man plea bargain in underage sex case

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POMONA – A Glendora man accused of engaging in sex acts with three underage boys has been offered a plea bargain in his criminal case that carries a prison sentence, a prosecutor said this morning.

David Earl Snyder, 52, is “discussing the offer,” his attorney told a judge today in Pomona Superior Court, where Snyder appeared for an arraignment.

Snyder did not enter pleas today to the 10 felonies charged by prosecutors, and his arraignment was postponed to Aug. 2.

Deputy District Attorney Lauren Guber declined to specify the length of the prison term contained in the plea offer to Snyder. Guber said Snyder could accept the offer Aug. 2. He remains free on $255,000 bail.

Snyder was arrested May 1 following an investigation by the La Verne Police Department.

Prosecutors filed ten felony counts last month against Snyder. The charges include four counts of oral copulation of a minor, one count of sodomy of a minor, two counts of possession of child pornography, and three counts of contacting a minor for a sexual offense.

Prosecutors allege Snyder’s crimes took place between Sept. 1, 2008 and May 1 of this year.

During Snyder’s court appearance today, a judge ordered the Los Angeles County Probation Department to prepare a “pre-plea” report. The judge’s order was made at the request of Snyder’s attorney, John Murray.

Guber said probation officers will review evidence in Snyder’s case, “and they’ll make a recommendation on what the sentence would be” if Snyder were convicted at trial.

“It’s pretty typical,” she said.

Here’s my first story about Snyder’s case:

Glendora man charged for alleged sex with underage boys

By Will Bigham, Staff Writer

Posted: 07/03/2010 07:45:57 PM PDT

POMONA – A Glendora man has been charged with 10 felonies for allegedly engaging in sexual acts with three underage boys, possessing child pornography, and other crimes.

David Earl Snyder, 52, was arrested May 1 following an investigation by the La Verne Police Department. Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Snyder on June 25.

Snyder, who works as a website designer, became an advocate for stiffer penalties for “trunking” – riding in the trunk of a car – after his son, 15-year-old Chris Snyder, was killed in 2005 accident involving the practice.

“My son died from trunking, and I want to make kids aware that if they do that they could die,” Snyder told a reporter in 2007 after a state law went into effect increasing penalties for “trunking.”

The 10 felonies filed against Snyder include four counts of oral copulation of a minor, one count of sodomy of a minor, two counts of possession of child pornography, and three counts of contacting a minor for a sexual offense.

Prosecutors allege Snyder’s crimes took place between Sept. 1, 2008 and May 1 of this year.

Detective Chris Dransfeldt, the investigating officer in the case, declined last week to discuss the details of Snyder’s alleged crimes.

Snyder was arrested May 1 at about 11 a.m. at his home in the 1600 block of Bentley Place. He was released from custody at about 2:30 p.m. after posting $75,000 bail, according to booking records.

At Snyder’s first court appearance Thursday, Commissioner Wade D. Olson raised his bail to $255,000.

Snyder arrived in Pomona Superior Court with two bail bondsmen, and was able to post a new bail bond and leave the courthouse with a promise to return July 16.

“I see you have the bond posted, so you are free to go,” Olson told Snyder.

Snyder was not arraigned Thursday on the charges contained in the 10-count complaint. His arraignment is now scheduled for July 16.

Snyder declined to comment to a reporter after the court hearing.

Snyder’s son and another 15-year-old boy, Scott Achingston, were killed on May 4, 2005 in the “trunking” accident in Glendora.

A 17-year-old unlicensed driver from San Dimas had four boys beside himself riding in his Mazda Protege, with Chris Snyder and Achingston riding in his trunk, which was closed.

The driver lost control of his car on Route 66 near Compromise Line Road. The car spun out, hit the center median and slammed into a tree.

Snyder and Achingston, who both attended Glendora High School, were thrown from the trunk and struck by a van traveling in the opposite lanes.

The driver of the car was convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to six months in a juvenile camp. David Snyder criticized prosecutors for filing misdemeanor charges against the driver.

“I’m shocked at the legal system,” Snyder said in a May 2005 interview. “You can take a cell phone and be charged with a felony (whereas) you grossly negligently kill someone and are charged with a misdemeanor. I’ve never wanted to see the driver hung out to die and I know his life has been destroyed, but a misdemeanor?”

After his son’s death, Snyder spent several months constructing a fountain in front of his home to memorialize his son. The fountain still stood last week at the corner of Snyder’s property.

Snyder established a foundation to educate young people about the dangers of reckless riding. The foundation has granted scholarships to high school students, according to the foundation’s website.