From staff and wire reports:
MONTEBELLO — County mental health and child abuse investigators looking into an 11-year-old Montebello boy’s suicide threat said they didn’t learn key information about an abusive stepfather who answered the door at his house until after the boy is believed to have hanged himself, according to a report published Sunday.
The Department of Children and Family Services workers lacked key information on the boy because of communication difficulties at the agency, a newspaper reported.
On June 8, the workers visited the boy’s home in Montebello after he told a school counselor he wanted to kill himself.
The workers did not learn until after the suicide that the stepfather who answered the door had a history of drug abuse and domestic violence and that a court had barred him from living in the home. That information could have prompted officials to remove the boy from the home.
County workers had noted disheveled conditions, drugs, neglect and violence in the houses the boy had lived in since he was a baby. But the social worker who visited him with police officers did not have all of that information.
“This was a very difficult case, and we’re still trying to determine what happened,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.
The death is among several recent incidents that underscore communication problems that have plagued the department due to lack of funding, unused technology and legal limitations.
The department in 2007 bought 2,400 tablet computers that would have made the information available to the workers by giving them access to the department’s entire database, but only 400 wireless cards to make the devices work.
Most of the tablets gather dust desks while workers use only their cell phones to connect with the office.
The county has worked to expand a database where different agencies can share information like the boy’s complete history, but efforts have stalled as state
legislators attempt to ease restrictions on what information can be shared.
On the day he hanged himself, the fifth-grader had spent the morning at school crying, telling the school counselor life was “unbearable.” He said classmates bullied him and his mother hit him while his stepfather held him down, county records showed.
The boy said he wanted to kill himself “because I’m tired of people hitting me all the time,” the records said.
The school counselor called the county Department of Mental Health and filed a child abuse report with the Department of Children and Family Services. He warned that the boy had threatened to shoot himself, and in the past had threatened to hang himself with a rope. The social worker who visited the home later that day was told of the gun warning and looked for one, but did not look for a rope.
When the social worker asked about the last time his mother struck him, the boy shrugged his shoulders, and said “no” when asked if he feared her. Records showed that the mother seemed concerned for the boy’s welfare that day, and authorities thought it was safe to leave the boy in the home.
The social worker also did not know that the stepfather had been limited to visits to the house, and did not look into whether he was living there.
The mother and other family members reportedly declined to comment on the death.
As his family gathered to watch the Lakers play in the NBA finals, the boy slipped into his mother’s bedroom and closed the door, county records showed.
When his mother went to call the boy for dinner, the stepfather heard a scream, and he walked into the room and found her holding the boy’s limp body in her arms.
Montebello police received a report of an attempted suicide about 9 p.m. in the 100 block of South 3rd Street, police and coroner’s officials said.
“An 11 year-old-male was found by family members unresponsive at their home in Montebello,” Montebello police Lt. Michael Bergman said shortly after the incident.
“It appears the 11-year-old attempted to take his own life by hanging himself,” he said.
The boy was taken to Long Beach Memorial Hospital where he died at 1 p.m. on June 10, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Daniel Machian said.
His official cause of death remained under investigation Sunday, Machian added. “The doctor ordered further toxicological studies.”
The coroner’s investigation would likely be completed in early August, he said.
PASADENA — Three men used a handgun to rob a gardener of a leaf blower Saturday, police said.
The crime occurred about 6:15 p.m. in the 400 block of Tamarac Drive, Pasadena police Lt. Pete Hettema said.
A gardener — a 24-year-old La Puente man — was working in a back yard when he heard a noise coming from his truck parked out front, the lieutenant said.
He found a man stealing an Echo-brand leaf blower from his truck and gave chase, he said.
The fleeing thief and gardener reached a light gray Jeep Cherokee with a waiting driver when a third suspect standing near the Jeep pointed a handgun at the gardener, Hettema said. The gunman and the man with the leaf blower then jumped into the Jeep and fled.
The robber who snatched the leaf blower was described as a Latino man, about 27 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 260 pounds, with shoulder-length black hair, Hettema said. He wore a white T-shirt and Levis jeans.
The gunman was a Latino man between 25 and 30, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 200 pounds, with a shaved head, mustache and goatee, police said.
No description of the driver was available.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — Deputies sought a man Saturday who attacked and apparently sexually assaulted a woman in the parking lot of a Rowland Heights apartment complex.
The crime took place about 4 a.m. in the 1900 block of Batson Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Perez said.
The woman called a friend to say she thought she was being followed just prior to the attack in the gated parking lot, the sergeant said.
She was approached by an attacker described only as a Latino man of about 5 feet 4 inches tall and 130 pounds, he said.
The woman was believed to have been assaulted both physically and sexually, Perez said. She was hospitalized in “guarded” condition.
A good Samaritan interrupted the crime and scared away the attacker, Perez said.
It was not clear if the woman had been raped Saturday pending the results of medical tests, officials said.
No further details were available.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST — Authorities uprooted about $35 million worth of marijuana plants from dozens of sites in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa Friday, sheriff’s officials said.
A multi-agency task force took the plants from pre-identified marijuana grows, Capt. Ralph Ornelas of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Narcotics Bureau said in a written statement.
“The team simultaneously entered three mountainous canyons,” the captain said.
“The team eradicated a total of 17,493 illicit marijuana plants from public lands,” he added. “The sites included extensive irrigation systems and campsites,” the captain said.
No arrested were made during the operation, sheriff’s officials said.
In addition to the pot, about 950 pounds of refuse was removed from the marijuana gardens, Ornelas said. It included hazardous chemical fertilizers, pesticides, spraying equipment, propane tanks, food and live ammunition, authorities said.
One extensive grow site was found near Rincon Road, “and abutted a popular local fishing and hiking recreation area where a number of families were currently swimming and camping,” Ornelas said.
Sheriff’s officials warned the public to be wary of illicit marijuana grows on public lands.
“Suspects often use firearms and even bobby traps to guard their plants from law enforcement and competing criminal elements,” Ornelas said. “Additionally, many of the fertilizers and pesticides encountered in illicit farming operations are highly toxic to people and may contaminate nearby water sources.”
Officials repaired damage to three streams, which had been artificially dammed, and pulled out extensive irrigation systems that were depriving water from native plants and animals to supply the marijuana plants.
Friday’s operation involved the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Since May, authorities have removed more than 126,000 marijuana plants from public lands in Los Angeles County, officials said, valued at more than $253 million.
PASADENA — An ice cream vendor was knocked unconscious and robbed of his cell phone Friday afternoon, police said.
The crime was reported about 3:40 p.m. at Maple Street and Chester Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. Pete Hettema said.
The vendor, a 47-year-old Los Angeles man, was walking with his ice cream cart when he was struck in the head from behind, the lieutenant said. He awoke to find his cell phone missing and did not get a look at his attacker.
It wasn’t clear if a weapon was used in the attack, Hettema said, however the vendor was hospitalized for treatment of cuts to his head.
Though the vendor had cash in his pocket, police said, only his cell phone was taken.
From Nathan McIntire and Frank Girardot, Staff Writers
SOUTH PASADENA – A man involved in a high speed car chase was arrested after his car hit a curb, flew into the air and crashed onto the roof of a home near Orange Grove Avenue and Columbia Street.
Estaban Pelacos was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department after he was chased to South Pasadena from Panorama City. The chase ensued after Pelacos failed to pull over during a traffic stop, South Pasadena Police Sgt. Craig Cooper said.
Pelacos sustained a spinal fracture when his car hit a curb, careened through brush and landed on the roof of a home, Cooper said.
“He was doing speeds in excess of 70 on Orange Grove,” Cooper said. “He lost control of the vehicle, he impacted a curb on a side street, and then he was airborne and landed on the roof and in some brush of a resident.”
Pelacos was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital, Cooper said. No one was home when the car hit the roof of the house, Cooper said.
Cooper said police had trouble arresting Pelacos because of where his vehicle ended up.
“Because of the level of the car being off the ground and hanging off the roof, it was a little challenging getting in there,” Cooper said.
Los Angeles police tried to pull Pelacos’ vehicle over just before midnight Thursday because it was registered to another man who is a suspect in a homicide, LAPD officer Gregory Baek said.
“They were serving a search warrant for a possible homicide suspect and the suspect fled from the location in a vehicle,” Baek said. “Officers followed that suspect and then the suspect kept fleeing.”
Police discovered Pelacos was not the man they were looking for but he was arrested anyway because he had a felony warrant out for his arrest and was carrying a handgun, Cooper said.
Pelacos is being held without bail, according to sheriff’s booking records.
After the crash and arrest, a tow truck moving the vehicle ruptured a gas line at about 1:15 a.m. and several homes were evacuated. There was no fire but more firefighters were called out as a precaution, authorities said.
South Pasadena police officers chased a parolee from their town to Los Angeles Thursday and jailed him on suspicion of auto theft following a crash, officials said.
Police tried to pull over Ricardo Torres Penaloza, 26, just before 3:30 p.m. on the southbound 110 Freeway at Salonica Street, South Pasadena police Sgt. Robert Bartl said. Police described him as a a transient with a last known address in Los Angeles.
Penaloza allegedly fled from police in the car, which had been reported stolen, and crashed into a barrier and another car while trying to take the Avenue 60 offramp, Bartl said.
Police said Penaloza fled on foot and hid in a shed in a nearby apartment complex on Arroyo Drive in Los Angeles before he was found by South Pasadena and Los Angeles police, he said.
Penaloza was booked on suspicion of auto theft, hit-and-run, delaying or obstructing arrest, Bartl said. A replica handgun was found inside the stolen car.
Because he is a parolee, Penaloza was being held without bail, officials said.
PASADENA — Following a report by the California Attorney General showing hate crimes had dropped by more than 20 percent state-wide in 2009, Pasadena police released statistics Thursday indicating hate crimes were more than cut in half last year.
Pasadena police investigated 20 hate crimes in 2008, and nine in 2009, according to police statistics.
Hate crimes in both 2008 and 2009 were primarily racially or ethnically motivated, police said.
In 2008, 15 of the 20 reported hate crimes were based on race or ethnic background, while two were based on sexual orientation and three were based on religion, according to police data.
Last year, five of the nine incidents were based on race or ethnic background, three were based on sexual orientation and one was based on religion.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown released a report Thursday indicating hate crime events in California were down by 21.3 percent last year.
PASADENA — A 3-year-old Pasadena girl was expected to recover Thursday after falling from the window of a second-floor apartment, officials said.
The incident was reported shortly after 2 p.m. in the 500 block of North El Molino Ave., Pasadena police Lt. Chris Russ said.
The three year old girl was sitting on top of a couch and leaned back when she fell through a glass window, he said.
She was taken to the hospital but was expected to be okay, Lt. Pete Hettema said.
The incident initially appeared to be accidental and there were no signs of foul play, he added.
“We’ll be certainly looking at parental supervision issues,” Hettema said, adding “There’s nothing that stands out as a major issue now.”
AZUSA — Police arrested an Azusa man Thursday after he allegedly barricaded himself inside a home, tried to light a fire and threw objects at police officers, authorities said.
Raymond Flores, 28, was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, assault on a police officer, resisting police via threats and arson, Azusa police Lt. Frank Chavez said in a written statement.
The incident began about 5:30 p.m. at a house in the 100 block of Calle De Las Estrellas, Chavez said.
Police responded to a report of a disturbance after family members reported Flores was becoming violent and walking around the home with a knife, the lieutenant said.
“When officers arrived Flores had barricaded himself on the second floor, threatening to kill officers if they proceeded any further,” Chavez said. He further claimed to have weapons.
“Based on Flores’ irrational and violent behavior, an uncle living at the location had to be evacuated from his second floor bedroom via window,” Chavez added.
Residents of two nearby condominiums were also evacuated as a precaution, police added.
During a standoff that lasted more than two hours, Flores allegedly continued yelling threats at police, brandishing a knife and throwing objects at officers, Chavez said.
One officer was struck by a picture frame and a ceramic object but was not injured, he said.
Chavez said Flores is also suspected of trying to light a fire by lighting the chemicals inside an aerosol spray can during the standoff.
He ultimately surrendered without further incident, police said.
According to sheriff’s booking records, Flores was being held in lieu of $250,000 bail and was due for arraignment in West Covina Superior Court Monday.