Officials: Fatal West Covina crash took place as suspects fled robbery; two men charged with murder

WEST COVINA >> Prosecutors filed charges of murder and robbery Tuesday against two men in connection with a fatal car crash police said took place as the suspects were fleeing the scene of a robbery.
Angel Andres Rojo, 24, of Covina and Jose Flavio Diaz, 24, of Montebello entered no pleas when they appeared at the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. An arraignment hearing was set for April 9.
They’re each accused of one count of murder and one count of second-degree robbery in connection with an alleged series of events late Saturday that resulted in the death of Manuel Ernesto Rodriguez, 26, of Rowland Heights, according to investigators and coroner’s officials. Rodriguez was a passenger in a Dodge sedan that crashed into a tree while being driven by Diaz.
“Several men, including Diaz and Rojo, were partying at a West Covina apartment complex just before robbing a woman and fleeing the scene,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “The defendants drove away with their friend, Manuel Ernesto Rodriguez, and traveled at a high rate of speeds on city streets.”
Diaz lost control of the car along a curve where Hollenbeck Street becomes Casa Grande Drive, West Covina police officials said. The car struck a tree and overturned.
Rojo ran from the wrecked Dodge Intrepid but was quickly captured, officials said. Diaz, who suffered major injuries including a broken ankle, was taken into custody at the crash scene. Rodriguez died from his injuries at the scene.
Police determined Diaz was under the influence of alcohol and arrested him on suspicion of drunken driving, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
As officers were responding to the crash, police received a call notifying them of the robbery, which took place at an apartment complex near Azusa and Puente avenues, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
Detectives withheld details of the robbery as they continued seeking witnesses and clues, Lopez said. The woman who was allegedly robbed was not injured, and police recovered property believed to have been stolen during the robbery from the crashed Dodge.
Because officials allege Diaz and Rojo were in the process of committing a felony — robbery — when the fatal crash occurred, they are eligible to be charged with murder under a California law known as the felony murder rule, Lopez explained. The law allows that deaths resulting from the commission of felonies be charged as murder cases.
Rojo already has a 2013 conviction for assault likely to produce great bodily injury, district attorney’s officials said.
He was arrested Dec. 13 of last year and released from custody on probation Jan. 21, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
Both men were being held in lieu of $1 million bail, records show. Diaz remained hospitalized due to his injuries Wednesday, While Rojo was being held at Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles.
If convicted as charged, both men could face maximum sentenced of life in prison.
Anyone with information regarding the fatal crash or the alleged robbery that preceded it was asked to contact West Covina police.

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