Skeletal remains found near overgrown crash scene in Angeles National Forest; SUV linked to 2-year-old LAPD missing person case

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Investigators recovered skeletal remains found near an overgrown SUV crash scene deep in the Angeles National Forest north of Mt. Wilson on Wednesday, launching an investigation into who the remains belonged to and how the person died, a homicide detective said.
Caltrans officials first noticed a set of skid marks about 1:30 p.m. leading off side of Angeles Crest Highway, near mile marker 41.69, Lt. Randy Tuinstra of the sheriff’s La Crescenta Station said.
Members of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team descended the steep roadside and found an SUV 500 to 600 feet over the roadside, Lt. Steve Jauch of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The SUV, which the lieutenant declined to describe in detail, was being overgrown with weeds and foliage. He declined to speculate how many months or years the SUV may have been there.
The original skid marks that prompted the search were found to have been the result of an unrelated crash that occurred about a week ago, Jauch said.
No body was initially found.
But officials returned to the scene Wednesday to resume their search. Search and Rescue officials discovered the skeletal remains “in the vicinity” of the SUV about 8 a.m., Jauch said.
The vehicle identification number on the SUV connected it to a missing person’s case launched by the Los Angeles Police Department about two years ago, Jauch said. He declined to discuss the specifics of the LAPD missing person case pending the identification of the remains. “It wouldn’t be responsible,” the lieutenant said.
The age or gender of the person whose skeletal remains were found remained a mystery, he said.
“We have no idea who they belong to,” Jauch said.
Despite the remains being found near the crashed SUV, Jauch said detectives had yet to determine whether the person had been inside it, or if the location of the remains was yet another coincidence.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner is now conducting an investigation into the identity of the person, as well as the cause of death.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: Teenage boy suspected in Hacienda Heights armed robbery

HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Deputies arrested a teen Sunday after he allegedly robbed a fruit vendor at gunpoint outside a Hacienda Heights diner before being involved in a hit-and-run car crash minutes later.
The robbery took place about 12:25 p.m. in the parking lot of Denny’s, 1150 S, 7th Ave., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Rico Sandoval said.
The 16-year-old suspect approached a vendor selling fruit, brandished a handgun and demanded money, the sergeant said.
After obtaining the cash, the robber got into a light-colored sedan and drove off.
Shortly after the robbery, deputies discovered an abandoned car matching the basic description of the car used in the robbery about 3 miles away in the area of Fairgrove and Broadmoor avenues in an unincorporated county area just outside of La Puente, officials said. It had crashed into a wall, and four people were seen running away.
All four were eventually found and detained during an hour-long search of the surrounding neighborhoods, official said. The 16-year-old boy was identified as the robbery suspect.
A handgun was recovered from inside the car, Sandoval added. Deputies also recovered some, but not all, of the suspected stolen money.
The other three people detained after fleeing from the car were not ultimately arrested, as they were not linked to the robbery, he said.

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Man critically injured in Pasadena stabbing, suspect jailed

PASADENA >> One man was hospitalized in critical condition and another was accused of attempted murder on Sunday after an early morning stabbing near Central Park in Pasadena, police said.
Officers arrested 51-year-old transient Lewis Divens minutes after the near-fatal 1:37 a.m. stabbing at Del Mar Boulevard and Raymond Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said.
“We received a call of a fight,” the lieutenant said. “They located a victim who had been stabbed during this fight.”
The victim, a 56-year-old man also described as transient, suffered “major injuries” in the stabbing and was taken to a hospital where he was listed in critical condition, he said.
Officers found and detained Divens without a struggle about a block away.
Police recovered a knife from Divens that was believed to have been used in the attack, Lt. John Mercado said.
The motive in the stabbing remained unclear Sunday.

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3 DUI suspects jailed during Whittier checkpoint

WHITTIER >> Police in Whittier arrested three suspected drunken drivers during a checkpoint late Friday into early Saturday, officials said.
The checkpoint was held along Colima Road, just south of Whittier Boulevard, according to Whittier police Sgt. David Elizarraras.
“Three motorists were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and one other for outstanding warrants,” he said in a written statement.
Eight other drivers were arrested and released on citations for driving without valid licenses, or driving on suspended or revoked licenses, he added.

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Shots fired outside Pasadena apartment complex

PASADENA >> Shots were fired outside a Pasadena apartment building Friday afternoon, but no victims were found, police said.
The shooting took place about 6 p.m. in the 100 block of East Painter Street, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said.
A black Hyundai sedan drove into the parking lot of an apartment complex, he said. Someone inside opened fire on a group of people who were on foot.
The apparent targets of the attack scattered and were not found, Clawson said. No gunshot wound victims believed linked to the shooting turned up at local hospitals.
Clawson said the Hyundai was last seen heading north from the area. No further description was available.
Anyone with information can reach Pasadena police at 626-744-4241. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: Duarte man accused of murder after fatal shooting of neighbor, pursuit

DUARTE >> A Duarte man shot and killed his neighbor Friday night before leading police on a chase that ended with his arrest in Azusa, authorities said.
The shooting took place about 7:55 p.m. in the 2100 block of Broach Avenue, Deputy Crystal Hernandez of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
Gabriel Alejandro De La Torre, 35, died in the shooting, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
Luis Valdes-Santillan, 40, was booked on suspicion of murder, according to sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
De La Torre and Valdes-Santillan lived in separate homes on the same lot, Hernandez said. Both attended a party being held at another neighbor’s home.
“At some point during the party, the victim and the suspect began to argue,” she said. “The suspect then entered his residence, retrieved a handgun, exited, and fired multiple rounds at the victim, striking him.”
De La Torre died at the scene.
Witnesses told deputies the shooter had fled in a white Toyota work truck, officials said.
Deputies soon spotted the truck nearby. The driver refused to pull over, initiating a pursuit.
The chase headed down Duarte Road and Huntington Drive before ultimately making its way onto the eastbound 210 Freeway, according to sheriff’s radio traffic.
A helicopter joined in the pursuit before Valdes-Santillan stopped and surrendered on the Azusa Avenue offramp in Azusa.
“A weapon was recovered inside the suspect’s vehicle,” Hernandez said.
The man was taken to the sheriff’s Temple Station for questioning, officials said. He was ultimately booked on suspicion of murder.
Valdes-Santillan was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Tuesday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Alhambra branch, records show.
No further details were released as the investigation continued Saturday.
De La Torre’s brother-in-law, Bobby Serna, said De La Torre is survived by his wife and three step-daughters who he had helped raise. The youngest of his step-daughters is a teenager.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Serna said. “He took a really good man that I looked up to. I loved him, I really did.”
Serna, who was not present when the shooting occurred, said his brother-in-law was gathered with family members behind his home, along with Valdes-Santillan.
It was unclear what angered Valdes-Santillan and prompted him to retrieve a gun from his home.
The suspect made a statement to the effect of, “Who wants it first?” before opening fire, Serna said.
Until the gunshots were fired, “Nobody even knew it was happening,” he said.
Serna said he did not know whether De La Torre was specifically targeted in the shooting.
“He was such a good man,” Serna said of his brother-in-law.
De La Torre migrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager and had been working as a subcontracting electrician, he said. De La Torre’s white work van with a ladder affixed to the top remained parked in front of the home Saturday.
He was saving money and planning to obtain his contractor’s license, so he could start his own contractor business, Serna said.
“He would help anybody,” Serna said. “He really valued family. He loved kids. He was a hard worker.”
De La Torre’s personality was “quiet but humorous,” he said.
“My daughters are devastated. They loved their uncle,” Serna said.
Funds to benefit De La Torre’s family are being collected online at
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO: Gabriel Alejandro De La Torre, courtesy

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Elderly man who went missing in Arcadia found safe

ARCADIA >> An elderly man from China who went missing in Arcadia while visiting family Thursday morning turned up safe Thursday night, police said.
Tong Huang, 78, was reported missing after he went for a walk in Arcadia and failed to return, Arcadia police officials said in a written statement. The senior, who speaks only Mandarin, was visiting family from China and had been in the U.S. for about a month.
But the search was called off after Huang was found safe and reunited with his family Thursday night, police said.
A good Samaritan spotted Huang at a Pasadena supermarket late Thursday and thought he appeared lost, Lt. Tom Cullen said.
The good Samaritan provided Huang with a ride home, he said. Once there, Huang’s family notified police that he had returned home safely.

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‘Baggy Eyes Bandit’ sought in 4-county bank robbery spree


The FBI is seeking a possibly sleep deprived serial bank robber dubbed the “Baggy Eyes Bandit” in connection with a spate of six bank heists in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties dating back to late-February, officials said.
The bandit, who earned his nickname due to witnesses describing him as having “baggy eyes,” is linked to five bank robberies and one failed bank robbery, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
“The suspect known as the Baggy Eyes Bandit enters the bank branch and passes a note to the victim tellers demanding cash while threatening a weapon,” Eimiller said in a written statement. “No weapon has been seen by witnesses, however, the suspect should be considered potentially armed and dangerous.”
Each of the robberies took place at Citibank branches.
Eimiller said the serial robber has been linked to a robbery Wednesday at a Norco branch; an Aug. 4 robbery at a Chino Hills branch; a July 14 heist at a Rancho Cucamonga branch; a March 4 failed robbery in Arcadia; a March 4 robbery in Placentia and a Feb 29 robbery in Glendora.
In each case, the bandit was last seen fleeing on foot. No getaway car has been reported in connection with the crimes.
He’s described as a white man in hiss mid-20s, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, of thin build. He wears a dark baseball cap during the robberies, and some victims described him as having a Middle Eastern accent.
Anyone with information can reach the 24-hour tip line of the FBI’s Los Angeles office at 310-477-6565. Anyone who spots the bandit is urged to call 911.

PHOTOS courtesy of the FBI

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UPDATED: 3 jailed, 1 sought in La Habra pharmacy break-in

LA HABRA >> Police jailed three suspects and sought another following a break-in targeting prescription drugs at a La Habra pharmacy early Friday morning, authorities said.
An alarm activation at 3:30 a.m. first attracted the attention of police to Central Drugs, 520 W. La Habra Blvd., La Habra police officials said in a written statement.
The first officer to arrive on-scene spotted a suspicious silver Hyundai Sonata near the pharmacy, but it immediately sped away once the driver spotted the patrol car, according to the statement.
The driver of the Honda fled, but soon crashed into a wall at a dead end in the 700 block of West First Avenue, police said.
The driver, later identified at Daniel Estrada, 29, of Apple Valley, allegedly put the car into reverse and rammed the police car. He and passenger Lina Medina, 24, of Rialto, where then taken into custody.
“While this was occurring, two additional suspects, who had still been in the business when the officers arrived, fled the area on foot,” according to the statement.
Officers searched the area and found Gabriel Pille, 23, of Fontana behind a nearby supermarket and arrested him. The fourth and final suspect evaded police, but officers recovered “numerous pieces of evidence,” including recovered prescription drugs.
Police recovered thousands of prescription painkillers such as morphine, codeine and oxycodone from the suspects, Sgt. Ron Hurst said.
The investigation was ongoing.
Estrada and Pille were booked on suspicion of burglary, possession of stolen property and conspiracy, police said. Estrada is additionally accused of assault on a peace officer. Media was booked on suspicion of conspiracy.
Anyone with information can reach La Habra police at 562-383-4300. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online at

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West Covina police officer wounded in gunfight returns to duty

WEST COVINA >> A West Covina police officer wounded in a gunfight with a suspect returned to duty this week after recovering from his injuries.
Officer Kenny Benitez was allegedly shot by 47-year-old Jose Luis Chavez during a May 20 confrontation on Yaleton Avenue, just north of Badillo Street, according to West Covina police and Los Angeles Count sheriff’s officials. Chavez, who was also wounded in the encounter, was captured in nearby Valinda following a six-day manhunt, faces charges of attempted murder of a police officer, assault on a police officer with a semi-automatic firearm and possession of a gun by a convicted felon.
The West Covina Police Department’s briefing room was extra crowded Thursday night as fellow officer and other colleagues attended the briefing to welcome Benitez back to his first shift after three months of recovery, West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said.
“Ken was severely injured when he was shot in May and his quick recovery is nothing short of miraculous under the circumstances,” the chief said.
0820_NWS_SGT-L-OFFICER2“Officer Benitez is a strong young man and was driven to return back to work in support of his fellow officers in the field,” Faulkner said. “We are very proud of Officer Benitez and how he handled this injury. Ken has set a solid example for our personnel for many years to come.”
Benitez has been a police officer for nine years, and had worked with the West Covina Police Department of a little over a year at the time of the shooting.
Benitez approached Chavez as he walked with a woman, pushing a bicycle, when Chavez pulled a handgun and opened fire multiple times, officials said. Benitez was wounded but returned fire.
The alleged shooter, later identified as Chavez, initially escaped the scene but was captured by a sheriff’s SWAT team the following week in the unincorporated county area of Valinda. He was found to have a days-old gunshot wound to his arm.
Chavez has yet to enter a plea to his charges in connection with the shooting of Benitez.
His arraignment hearing has been postponed four times, and his now scheduled to take place Sept. 6 in West Covina Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Chavez is also scheduled to be sentenced for another criminal case on Sept. 6, she said. He pleaded “no contest” in April to possession of drugs for sale, bringing contraband into a jail and possession of a switchblade knife. That case was first filed in December of 2015.

PHOTOS: [ABOVE] West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner, left, welcomed Officer Kenny Benitez back to duty on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, on his first night of patrol following after being wounded in a gunfight with a suspect three months ago. [BELOW] Jose Luis Chavez (Courtesy, West Covina Police Department)

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