POMONA >> An El Monte gang member has begun serving a sentence of 80 years to life in prison for the fatal shooting of a fellow gang member in El Monte in 2012.
A Pomona Superior Court jury convicted Frank Escalante, 27, in April of the June 14, 2012, slaying of 34-year-old German Palacios of El Monte in the 11500 block of Medina Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Convicted along with Escalante was 27-year-old Noah Akuna of Pomona, who was sentenced earlier this month 50 years in life in state prison. The jury found both guilty of murder with special gun allegations, conspiracy to commit murder and being convicted felons in possession of a firearm. Escalante also admitted a previous conviction for assault with a deadly weapon.
Both men fired on Palacios, Deputy District Attorney Robert Serna said.
Pomona Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Falls sentenced Escalante Tuesday to 83 years to life in state prison, Ardalani said.
Homicide detectives said Escalante and Akuna, along with two other attackers, shot Hicks 16 times because they believed he was involved in the April 12, 2008, slaying of Jack Edward Hicks, 35, of El Monte in a tent trailer parked behind a friend’s house in the 5200 block of Cogswell Road. Officials also suspected Palacios was targeted for disrespecting a higher-ranking gang member.
Detective Ray Lugo of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau confirmed that investigators had looked into Palacios in connection with Hicks’ slaying, but charges were never filed.
Two other men charged in connection with Palacios’ killing — Richard Sanchez of Covina and Michael Dominguez of El Monte — have pleaded “no contest” to charges of voluntary manslaughter.
Sanchez helped plan the killing, and Dominguez provided Akuna with a handgun used in the shooting, Serna said.
Sanchez has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Dominguez is scheduled to be sentenced July 8.
PHOTOS: [Above] -Convicted killer Frank Escalante, 27, of El Monte [Below] – Homicide victim German Palacios. (Courtesy)
WEST WHITTIER >> An 18-year-old man died after he was shot near his home in an unincorporated county area near Whittier Tuesday night, authorities said.
Steve Cerda died in the shooting, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Chief of Operations Craig Harvey said.
Deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station responded to a 9-1-1 call reporting a shooting in the 6100 block of Norwalk Boulevard, according to a department statement.
Deputies found Cerda lying on the lawn in front of an apartment complex with multiple gunshot wounds. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
“According to witnesses, the victim was hanging out in front of the apartment complex with some friends when the suspect, a male Hispanic, walked up to the victim and his friends and started shooting at them,” Deputy Mike Barraza of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement. “The victim was struck by the gunfire and collapsed at the location.”
No one else was struck by the gunfire, Barraza said.
Witnesses told deputies that the victim was hanging out in the front of the complex with some friends when a suspect walked up to the group and started shooting at them, the statement said. The victim was struck by gunfire and collapsed. No one else was injured.
• Photos: Man shot in front of Norwalk Boulevard apartment building in West Whittier
The suspect fled the location on foot and was last seen running south on Norwalk.
Randy Avalos, 15, who lives at the complex, said the victim, who he called Steve, was talking about how he was planning on going to the Irwindale Speedway to watch cars race when a lone gunman wearing a black hooded sweatshirt approached the group and started starting shooting at the group.
The group scattered as the gunfire broke out, Avalos said.
After Avalos fell wounded, “He went up to him and shot him in the head,” Avalos said, adding that they didn’t recognize the suspect. “It’s crazy. He didn’t deserve it.”
Cerda lives on the same street where he was shot, officials said.
According to his Facebook profile, Cerda studied at Rio Hondo College and had previously attended Pioneer High School, Frontier High School and Whittier High School.
Investigators asked anyone with information to contact 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.
— Stephanie Baer, Keith Durflinger, Brian Day
MONTEBELLO >> Authorities Sunday released the identity of a 19-year-old East Los Angeles man who was shot to death in an apartment complex courtyard in Montebello Friday afternoon.
Gabriel Vargas Jr. died at the scene of the shooting, which took place just after noon in the 500 block of Via Altamira Drive, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corrall said.
Officers responding to reports of gunfire to find Vargas lying in a courtyard between two apartment complexes, mortally wounded.
Vargas was talking with a small group of acquaintances just before the shooting, Montebello police officials said.
“It was during this time the suspect approached the victim on foot and fired several times, striking him multiple times,” police said in a written statement.
The shooter was described only as a man.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Montebello Police Department.
PASADENA >> A jury deadlocked Friday in the trial of a Monterey Park man charged with two counts of murder for the strangulation and beating death of his wife, who was three months pregnant, officials said.
The Pasadena Superior Court jury announced they were unable to reach verdicts in the case of Hongxin Liu, 45, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. Judge Darrell Mavis declared a mistrial
Liu is charged with two counts of murder, along with the special allegation of multiple murder, in connection with the Feb. 5, 2012, death of his wife and her fetus at the couple’s apartment in the 1000 block of South Ynez Avenue.
An autopsy determined 39-year-old Chenyan Bao died of asphyxia as a result of neck compression. The coroner’s investigation also found that Bao had been beaten.
Prosecutors plan to retry the case, and a pretrial hearing was scheduled July 6, Ardalani said.
SOUTH EL MONTE >> A SWAT team arrested a person of interest Thursday in the fatal shooting of a man in the same neighborhood a month ago, authorities said.
Deputies responded to a home in the 2500 block of Continental Avenue after the wanted man was spotted about 3:30 p.m., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Jorge Marchena said.
Officials evacuated nearby homes before ordering the suspect to surrender, which he did just under two hours later, the sergeant said.
“He surrendered peacefully,” Marchena said.
Rigoberto De Leon, 24, was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, officials said.
De Leon was arrested in connection with an assault on his father that took place last week, but was also wanted for questioning in the May 11 slaying of Humberto Nava, 31, which occurred on the same street, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. Nava lived in a nearby apartment.
While Corina stopped short of labeling De Leon a suspect in the slaying, “We’re looking at him as possibly being involved in the murder,” he said. “We’re going to talk to him about it.”
Deputies initially responding to the scene described De Leon as a murder suspect.
De Leon and Nava were neighbors and belonged to the same El Monte street gang, Corina said.
Further details regarding last week’s alleged assault were not available Thursday evening.
Nava was found shot behind an apartment complex about 5:30 a.m. May 11, Corina said. He had been shot once in the torso and died at the scene.
Witnesses reported hearing an argument just before the gunfire, the lieutenant said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact 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.
SAN DIMAS >> Authorities released a suspect sketch and offered a $20,000 reward Wednesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of gunman who fatally shot a San Dimas sandwich shop owner during a robbery last week.
Investigators also released a suspect sketch in connection with the June 2 shooting a Quiznos restaurant at 1034 Arrow Highway that fatally wounded owner Pravin “Peter” Patel, 62.
“Besides being a husband, a father, a grandfather and a father-in-law, Mr. Patel was the owner of the Quiznos and he is very well respected in the community,” said Lt. Dave Coleman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. “Everybody likes him. He was a loving, kind man.”
The unidentified shooter was as a white or Latino man in his early-20s, about 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inch tall and 180 pounds. During the crime, he wore a black T-shirt, plaid shorts and a baseball cap.
“We’re asking for the public’s help,” Coleman said. “Anybody who may have been in the area around 3:20 p.m…. any information that you could provide would be of great assistance to us.”
The office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich authorized the reward.
Patel was working as usual when the robber entered the sandwich shop, brandished a handgun and demanded money, officials said.
Patel handed over the money from the register to the robber, who threatened to harm the two customers inside the store if he did not, Coleman said. Patel then followed the robber outside.
“As Mr. Patel exited the restaurant, a struggle ensued between he and the suspect,and Mr. Patel was shot and mortally wounded,” Coleman said.
The brazen and deadly daytime was “very unusual” for the area, Capt. Duane Harris of the Sheriff’s San Dimas Station said. “This is appropriately described as a quiet community,” he said.
A large memorial of flowers and candles sat in front of Quiznos shop Wednesday. Family members did not wish to comment.
Monrovia police Lt. Mike Lee said he knew Patel since before he bought his Quiznos restaurant, when he owned a video store on Arrow Highway and Sunflower Avenue.
“He was just a good man,” Lee said. “He always remembered your name.”
Lee described Patel as a soft spoken man who always treated customers nicely.
Signs on the door of the eatery invited to public to a memorial service at 2:15 p.m. Thursday at the Memory Garden Memorial Park and Mortuary, 455 W. Central Ave. in Brea. “Peter was a hard working family man who brought people together,” the sign read. “He was passionate about serving his food and exchanging family stories with his customers. Peter spent every day working side by side with the woman he loved most — his wife, Maya “Mary” Patel.”
A candlelight vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Friday in front of the Quiznos store. A website collecting donations to help Patel’s family has been established at www.youcaring.com/pravin.
Anyone with information is asked to contact 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.
PICO RIVERA >> Detectives Friday arrested a transient they’d been seeking in connection with the unprovoked stabbing death of a tow truck driver as he helped the suspect’s mother change her car battery in Pico Rivera, authorities said.
Tobias Ruben Cabrera, 39, is accused of Tuesday afternoon’s slaying of 35-year-old Raymond Zabala
of East Los Angeles, Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
“Deputies from Pico Rivera Station and the Major Crimes Bureau developed information about the possible whereabouts of Cabrera, and set up a surveillance in the area of Whittier Boulevard and the San Gabriel River,” Rouzan said. “Major Crimes Bureau personnel observed the suspect, and were able to take him into custody without incident.”
Deputies booked Cabrera for murder at the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station, according to Los Angeles County booking records. He was being held in lieu of $1.08 million bail pending his scheduled arraignment Tuesday in Downey Superior Court.
Zabala worked for Petra Towing & Auto Repair in Montebello, which contracts with the Automobile Club of Southern California for roadside service, said manager Ron Lopez, who described Zabala as, “an outstanding young man” survived by a girlfriend, a 2-month-old son and a stepson.
Zabala arrived about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday in the 8400 block of Buhman Avenue after Cabrera’s mother called AAA for help with a dead battery in her minivan, sheriff’s officials said.
As Zabala talked to Cabrera’s mother, the suspect approached and stabbed Zabala in the neck in a seemingly random attack before fleeing on a bicycle, authorities said. He remained a fugitive until Friday.
Meanwhile, a website to collect donations to help Zabala’s family with funeral and service expenses as been set up at www.gofundme.com/ray-ray#
. Family members could not be reached for comment Friday.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
PHOTO of fatal stabbing suspect Tobias Cabrera (Courtesy)
POMONA >> A La Puente man accused of fatally shooting a man in West Covina, as well as shooting and wounding his ex-girlfriend in Covina, during an alleged crime spree in April, pleaded not guilty to six felony charges Thursday, authorities said.
Manuel Jerome Lujan, described by police as a 33-year-old West Covina gang member, appeared in Pomona Superior court where he denied charges of murder, attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, robbery, assault with a firearm and exhibiting a concealed firearm in public, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Prosecutors further allege that Lujan intentionally fired a firearm causing injury or death, and that Lujan was previously convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2001.
His alleged series of violent crimes took place between April 26 and April 29. It began when Lujan robbed a man of his cell phone at gunpoint in Valinda and brandished a gun at other victims, according to prosecutors.
Three days later, he fatally shot 36-year-old Jabarri Butts behind a Social Security office in the 500 block of South Vincent Avenue, and opened fire on a nearby home, West Covina police officials said.
Hours later, he showed up at the home of his ex-girlfriend in the 300 block of West Center Street in Covina, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said. He through rocks and the woman’s window to get her attention, then shot her when she came to the window.
Lujan is scheduled to appear in Pomona Superior Court July 9 for a hearing, officials said. If convicted as charged, he could face life in prison.
POMONA >> A jury convicted a Rowland Heights man Tuesday of fatally stabbing his ex-boyfriend, an El Monte man, to death in an industrial neighborhood in La Puente last year.
Andres Aguirre, 28, also known as Andres Aguirre Garcia, faces up to 26 years to life in prison when he returns to Pomona Superior Court July 7 to be sentenced for the Feb. 12, 2014, slaying of 27-year-old Joseph Chacon, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
The men had ended a relationship years prior to the stabbing but had recently reunited and become friends at the time of the killing, officials said.
On the night of the fatal stabbing, Aguirre picked up the victim at his Rowland Heights home, authorities said. “Aguirre provided Chacon with a large amount of alcohol and drove the victim to an isolated industrial area in La Puente,” district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
The men ended up in a parking lot behind an insulation business owned by La Puente’s then-mayor, Charlie Klinakis, in the 15900 block of Old Valley Road in La Puente, Lt. Steve Jauch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at the time.
“At one point, the victim exited the car to urinate and Aguirre followed,” the statement said. “As the victim attempted to return to the car, Aguirre fatally stabbed Chacon in the chest and back.”
“Four of the five wounds were fatal or potentially fatal,” Deputy District attorney Lauren Guber said.
Chacon’s body was found by a passer-by a short time later.
Detectives arrested Aguirre two days later after he agreed to meet with detectives for an interview. He was the last person known to have seen Chacon alive.
As Aguirre’s story failed to add up, he confessed to stabbing Chacon, sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
Chacon and Aguirre had been involved in a relationship, but broke it off in 2006, the prosecutor said. The men fell out of touch for several years, but began a friendship when they met by a coincidence on a bus in the year or so leading up to the deadly encounter.
Following his arrest, Aguirre told investigators that he became angry at Chacon because he believed Chacon was being a bad friend and disrespecting him by taking phone calls and making other plans while the men spent the evening together, Guber said. Aguirre also made mention of seemingly unfounded, irrational fears that Chacon or one of his friends would harm him, though Chacon never physically harmed or threatened Aguirre.
Aguirre told detectives his intention on the night of the killing was to “test their friendship,” Guber said. He brought the knife with him when he picked up Chacon, later admitting to investigators that if the night did not go well, the thought of killing his friend had crossed his mind.
Following his arrest, the killer then led investigators to a roadside in Walnut where he had buried the knife used in the killing, described as an ornamental sword-like knife with a blade about 10 inches long, Guber said. “He seemed to have driven it into the ground with a hammer.”
That confession was played as evidence for the jury during the trial, Ardalani said.
Following a five-day trial, jurors deliberated for less than a day before finding Aguirre guilty of first degree murder, along with the special allegation that he personally used a knife in the killing, the prosecutor said. In doing so, jurors rejected the defense’s position that Aguirre should be convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder.
“The jury worked hard. I think they came to the right decision, Guber said.
ARCADIA >> Police are investigating a Sunday morning shooting in a residential neighborhood that left an Arcadia man dead, authorities said.
The shooting took place about 9 a.m. in the 1000 block of South 5th Avenue, just south of Duarte Road, Arcadia police Lt. Mike Castro said.
Officers responded to a call reporting a “loud bang” and a “person down” to find a man wounded by gunfire, the lieutenant said.
He was taken to an area hospital where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later.
The victim had been walking down the street when he was shot, Castro said. No further details regarding the circumstances of the shooting were released, and no suspect description was available.
Officials withheld the victim’s name pending notification of his family, Los Angeles County coroner Investigator Kimberly Arnold said. He was initially described as an Arcadia man in his mid-50s.
Police kept 5th Avenue closed between Duarte Road and Leda Lane well into the afternoon as authorities continued their investigation.
Crime scene investigators scoured the front yard of a home with metal detectors, while another climbed onto the roof to search for clues.
Neighbors traded pieces of information they’d heard about what had taken place in the generally quiet and uneventful street.
Though she lives only a few houses away from the shooting scene, Sherry Xi, 44, said she heard no gunshots or commotion Sunday morning.
And while the neighborhood has seemed to see an increase in burglaries in recent years, she said, news of a fatal shooting came as a shock and left her nervous.
Anyone with information can reach Arcadia police at 626-574-5150. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.