UPDATED: Woman stabbed to death in South Whittier; suspect arrested

SOUTH WHITTIER >> A woman is dead and another is accused of murder after a fight escalated into a stabbing late Friday in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, authorities said.
Michelle Alexis Young, 31, of Los Angeles died following the stabbing, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
The stabbing was first reported as a “woman down” about 10:30 p.m. on a small cul-de-sac in the 11500 block of Obert Avenue, just north of Leffingwell Road, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau said in a written statement.
Deputies arrived to find paramedics already treating Young, who had been stabbed multiple times, officials said
Young was pronounced dead on the sidewalk at 11:12 p.m., Smith said.
“A male adult witness at the scene told deputies that a female approached the victim and started an argument,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. “The argument escalated into a physical altercation. The female suspect then produced a knife and stabbed the victim several times. The suspect fled the location.”
Soon after, deputies detained another woman who as believed to have been involved in the incident, officials said.
After hours of investigation, detectives arrested Vanessa Rebecca Cella, 28, on suspicion of murder Saturday morning, sheriff’s officials said. Her city of residence was not immediately available.
Cella was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending her scheduled arraignment Tuesday in Bellflower Superior Court, according to county booking records.
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.

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Whittier gang members convicted of fatal shooting of teen in South Whittier

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> A jury convicted two Whittier gang members Thursday for the execution of a Whittier teen in broad daylight at a strip mall in 2012.
A Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated for less than a day before finding Eudiel Eddie Lopez, 21, and Daniel Cesar Stopani, 20, guilty of the March 26, 2012, slaying of 17-year-old Michael Soto of Whittier, at a strip mall at the coroner of Mulberry Drive and Painter Avenue, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
“It was a gang hit; orchestrated, planned,” Deputy District Attorney Brock Lunsford said.
The killers approached the murder scene together before splitting up, the prosecutor said. Stopani approached Soto from the front and waited until Lopez took a position just behind the teen. Portions of the incident were captured by a surveillance camera mounted on a nearby bus.
Stopani suddenly shouted out “Whittier 13,” the name of a local street gang,” and punched the Soto
Lopez then pulled a .357 Magnum handgun and opened fire, Lunsford said.
The first two gunshots struck Soto in the face and back, knocking him to the ground, Lunsford said.
“Once he was down, it appears (Lopez” shot him twice more,” the prosecutor said. “He shot him four times in total.”
The jury convicted Lopez of first-degree murder and found true the special allegations that he personally used a gun in the crime, and that the crime was gang-related, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
Stopani was convicted of second-degree murder, and the jury found true the special allegations that a gun was used in the crime, and that the crime was gang-related, she said.
The shooting took place shortly after noon at busy strip mall, just across the street from a continuation school that had just let out for the day.
Lunsford said the fatal ambush stemmed from a brief exchange of words between Lopez and Soto about a month prior to the killing, Lunsford said.
Lopez had issued a gang challenge to Soto and told the teen that he was from Whittier 13. Soto responded they he didn’t care what gang Lopez belonged to.
Lopez told investigators the perceived slight was the reason he targeted Soto, Lunsford added.
Soto died at a hospital shortly after he was shot,
Relatives said Soto was not a gang member, and described him as a smart young man who hoped to join the U.S. Marines when he turned 18.
Following the shooting, Lopez and Soto split up, officials said.
Lopez fled north. He ran across a set of train tracks that were muddy due to rain the previous day, Lunsford said. Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators were able to follow Lopez’s muddy footprint to a nearby mobile home park, where he was quickly found and arrested hiding inside a trailer that belonged to a friend.
“He was leaving footprints that led right to the back door of the trailer where he was hiding,” Lunsford said.
Officials found Lopez, the muddy shoes and the gun that was used in the shooting inside, he added.
Stopani fled south from the shooting scene and was found and interviewed by investigators the same day, Lunsford said.
But Stopani was not arrested until February of 2013, after investigators had gathered evidence of his culpability in the killing, according to Lunsford and county booking records.
Lopez and Stopani are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 18 in Norwalk Superior Court. Lopez faces a maximum sentenced of 50 years to life in prison, while Stopani could face up to 40 years to life in prison.

PHOTO of Michael Soto, 17, of Whittier, taken at memorial to Soto in the wake of his fatal shooting on March 26, 2012, at the corner of Mulberry Drive and Painter Avenue in South Whittier. (By Keith Durflinger)

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UPDATED: Man fatally shot in front of his home in Whittier


WHITTIER >> A man died after being shot in broad daylight Saturday in front of his Whittier home, authorities said.
Police responded to reports of a shooting about 12:10 p.m. at the corner of Washington Avenue and La Cuarta Street, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
The victim, a 34-year-old Whittier man, was found lying unconscious outside, Ellis said.
0831_NWS_WDN-L-SHOOTINGDEATH2“Officers performed CPR. He was subsequently transported to (Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center) where he was pronounced dead,” Lt. Mike Przybyl said.
The victim had been shot once in the torso, he said.
His name was withheld pending notification of family members, officials said.
At least one suspect — described only as a man — was believed to have fled the scene in a vehicle, Przybyl said, however a further description of the suspect or the getaway car was not available.
The motive in the shooting also remained under investigation, Przybyl said.
“We’re developing further, and at this point, we’re still trying to follow up on some of that,” he said.
0831_NWS_WDN-L-SHOOTINGDEATH3Neighbors expressed sorrow for the victim’s family. They added that the home is occupied by several children.
Detectives examined items including an ice chest, an overturned plastic been full of clothing and a cell phone strewn along the street and sidewalk at the scene of the shooting.
Detectives continued interviewing witnesses, taking measurements and collecting clues well into the afternoon.
Detectives continued investigating the scene and interviewing witnesses of the midday shooting Saturday afternoon, he said.
Anyone with information can contact Whittier police at 562-567-9200.

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Hundreds march in honor of slain sheriff’s Explorer in South Whittier

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> Hundreds of people took part in a vigil in South Whittier late Thursday to commemorate the third anniversary of the fatal shooting of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Explorer and lifelong Whittier resident Cesar Rodriguez.
The observance included a march to the scene of the shooting that claimed the life of Rodriguez, 19, and friend Larry Villegas, 24, of Whittier on Aug. 28, 2011.
Loved ones placed candles at the shooting scene outside a home in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue in South Whittier before continuing on to Amelia Mayberry Park.
The march was led by fellow Explorers from the sheriff’s Norwalk Station, where Rodriguez had volunteered for four years. And his legacy lives in.
“He was my inspiration to become an Explorer,” Alejandra Garcia, 16, said as she participated in the march while carrying a framed photograph of Rodriguez.
IMG_5398The fatal shootings of Rodriguez and Villegas remain unsolved, and no description of the killer or killers is known, investigators said.
Though officials initially reported a white Scion vehicle was being sought in connection with the crime, the car has since been located and found not to be involved, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

PHOTOS by James Carbone

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Vigil planned for sheriff’s Explorer slain in South Whittier drive-by shooting

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> Family members and loved ones of a 19-year-old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Explorer Scout plan to gather for a vigil Thursday to mark the third anniversary of his unsolved slaying.
Cesar Rodriguez, a lifelong Whittier resident who had spent his last four years volunteering as an Explorer at the sheriff’s Norwalk Station, was gunned down along with friend Larry Villegas, 24, in the early-morning hours of Aug. 28, 2011 in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue, according to sheriff’s investigators and family members.
He’s survived his parents Jorge and Lupe Rodriguez, as well as older brothers George and Hector Rodriguez.
“We’re trying to stay strong,” George Rodriguez said.
Thursday’s vigil will be held at 7 p.m. at Laurel and Beaty avenues, near the shooting scene in South Whittier.
Community support has continued to grow in the three years since Cesar Rodriguez’s
At a march held last year on the second anniversary of the shooting, nearly 300 people attended, he said. About 150 people marched in a similar gathering in 2012.
Cesar Rodriguez and Villegas were shot as they left a party, sheriff’s officials said. The shots were believed to have been fired from a passing vehicle, though no specific description was available.
A white Scion initially described by investigators as a suspect vehicle has been found and determined not to have been the killer’s car, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Rodriguez and Villegas died at the scene.
Patrick Maxwell, who served as captain of the sheriff’s Norwalk Station while Rodriguez volunteered there and has since been promoted to the rank of commander, described Rodriguez as a selfless and eager young man who was always polite and respectful. he has a lifelong dream of becoming a sheriff’s deputy, Maxwell said, and had turned in his application to join the sheriff’s department as a deputy a week before his killing.
At Rodriguez’s funeral, then-sheriff Lee Baca said Rodriguez was an exemplary Explorer Scout and a leader who was on a “noble path.”
Rodriguez was buried in his Explorer uniform.
The search for the killer or killers of Rodriguez and Villegas continues, and detectives have followed up on new clues in the case in recent months, Corina said.
A motive was not known with certainty, however Corina said investigators suspected the killings stemmed from a gang shooting.
George Rodriguez said the family remained hopeful the case would be solved, and Cesar Rodriguez’s killer or killers will be brought to justice.
Former sheriff Baca had promised the family the investigation would be a top priority of the sheriff’s department, George Rodriguez said. The brother said he hoped that would remain true under the department’s new leadership following the November runoff election for sheriff between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
Anyone with information on the double-fatal shooting is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

PHOTO of Cesar Rodriguez courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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Las Vegas man found dead following possible stabbing near Azusa

AZUSA >> Authorities on Wednesday identified the man found dead from a mysterious apparent stabbing in a residential neighborhood as a 19-year-old Las Vegas man.
Jessey Chavira died after he was found badly wounded lying in a pool of blood about 3:30 p.m. outside a home in the 5500 block of Orangeglen Street, in an unincorporated county area just outside of Azusa, Los Angeles County coroner’s and sheriff’s officials said.
“He was discovered by his mother, lying in the driveway covered in blood,” Lt. Ed Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
The mother immediately called for help and paramedics treated Chavira, but succumbed to his injuries at the scene, officials said.
“His injuries appear to be consistent with some type of an assault,” Hernandez said. Detectives were awaiting an autopsy to determine the “extent and nature of the injuries,” and exactly how Chavira died. The injuries were initially described as possible stab wounds.
“We’re investigating it as a suspicious death,” the lieutenant said.
Hernandez said Chavira had last been seen alive inside the house about noon, a little more than three hours before he was found bleeding in the driveway. He was dressed in basketball shorts and other casual attire.
Initial rumors that Chavira was stabbed as he exited a car were determined to be unfounded, Hernandez said. But investigators were left with few clues into what did unfold Tuesday afternoon on Orangeglen Street.
No one reported hearing or seeing anything unusual before Chavira was found wounded, Hernandez said.
Several people inside the involved home voluntarily went to the sheriff’s San Dimas Station to give statements to investigators, though the interviews shed little light on what happened to Chavira, Hernandez said.
Neighbors also were unable to provide useful clues.
“Nobody could give us even a brief suspect description,” Hernandez said. “It’s very bizarre.”
Detectives continued canvassing the neighborhood looking for witnesses Wednesday, Hernandez said. Detectives were also looking into Chavira’s background and what he was doing in Southern California.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

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UPDATED: Pico Rivera man mistakenly shot and killed by sheriff’s deputy during gun battle with fleeing parolee

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PICO RIVERA >> A sheriff’s deputy was believed to have accidentally shot a Pico Rivera man Friday during a gun battle with a fleeing parolee who had broken into his home, authorities said Saturday.
A  SWAT team ultimately shot and killed the gunman after he held the homeowner’s wife hostage for eight hours, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Division Chief William McSweeney. The hostage was rescued unharmed.
Coroner’s officials did not officially identify the slain homeowner Saturday, however family members identified him as Frank Mendoza. The rescued hostage was his wife, 60-year-old Lorraine Munoz, family members said.
Parolee Cedric Ramirez, 24, of Pico Rivera was killed about 1:30 a.m. as SWAT deputies forced their way into the home in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
The incident began about eight hours earlier when Ramirez fled from officials and ran into the home, engaging deputies in a shootout, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
0803_NWS_WDN-L-STANDOFF2The deadly encounter began about 5:30 p.m. Friday when sheriff’s gang deputies spotted Ramirez, a wanted parolee with two felony warrants, in the 9000 block of Reichling Lane.
“He entered the backyard of the victims’ residence where he exchanged gunfire with the deputies,” sheriff’s officials said in a written statement. “Ramirez then broke into the victims’ home through a window.”
Pursuing deputies, fearful the occupants would be harmed, went to the home’s front door and began evacuating the residents from the house. An adult and two children were rushed from the house when Ramirez appeared in an interior hallway and began shooting at the Deputies. The Deputies returned fire and then retreated to the front yard, seeking cover,” McSweeney said.
“Within seconds of their exit, an adult male suddenly appeared in the front doorway,” the chief said. “Believing the man was Ramirez, a deputy fired two shots at the man.  The man dropped unconscious in the doorway and was subsequently recognized to be one of the residents. Preliminary information indicates those shots likely struck Mr. Frank Mendoza.”
Paramedics pronounced Mendoza dead at the scene.
Officials said Ramirez then fled into the home, taking the 60-year-old woman hostage. Nishida said. A SWAT team surrounded the home as a crisis negotiator spoke with Ramirez by telephone and tried to persuade him to surrender peacefully.
After eight hours, the SWAT team moved in.
“After an extended standoff, a Special Enforcement Bureau, special weapons team, entered the location which ended with the fatal shooting of the suspect,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. Deputies rescued the woman, and Ramirez died at the scene.
Family members of the victims and neighbors described a harrowing ordeal.
Frank Mendoza lived at the Rosehedge Drive home with his wife, four sons, and young grandchildren, daughter-in-law Tanya Mendoza said.
When the shooting began and Frank Mendoza was mortally wounded, one of his sons who was home at the time gathered his two young children and rushed them out of the home, family members said.
Deputies rushed them to cover behind a parked car, said Sandra Monge, whose 83-year-old mother and brother live next door to the involved home. They were trapped for about two hours before being evacuated by deputies through their back yard.
While continuing to trade gunfire with Ramirez, deputies pulled Frank Mendoza around the corner and out of the line of fire, neighbors said. It was there, at the corner of Lindsey Avenue and Reichling Drive, that the wounded man was pronounced dead.
Lorraine Munoz, who walks with difficulty and uses a wheelchair or cane, was not able to get out of the home.
Family members did not know Ramirez, Tanya Mendoza said, adding that it appeared he broke into a random house while fleeing deputies.
“This incident was beyond tragic, and all of law enforcement grieves with the Mendoza family,” McSweeney said. “We have made personal contact with the family, and have expressed our regret and sadness over these events.
“This investigation continues, and every aspect of this incident will be assessed for compliance with the law and Department policy,” McSweeney said.
Ramirez was in violation of his parole and being sought on warrants for being an convicted felon in possession of a firearm and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent when deputies encountered him Friday, officials said.
Los Angeles County court records show Ramirez was convicted in of possessing a loaded firearm along with narcotics in 2013, vandalism in 2008 and carrying a loaded gun in 2007.
Heartbroken family members described Frank Mendoza as a light-spirited and dedicated family man who had lived at the same home on Rosehedge Drive for 32 years.
“He was just a great guy,” sister Kathy Mendoza said.
“He was hard-working man,” she said, adding that her brother was three months away from retiring from his job working on machines for a grocery company, where he had worked since he was a young man.
In addition to his wife, he’s survived by four sons, one daughter, two step-sons and one step-daughter, Tanya Mendoza said. He had 12 grandchildren and two more on the way, and two great grandchildren.
“He was a joker. He was always willing to help,” Kathy Mendoza said.
“He was always the life of the party,” son Jeremy Mendoza said.
Tanya Mendoza thanked the community for its support following Friday’s tragedy.
The Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is spearheading the investigation. As is common procedure in Los Angeles County deputy-involved shootings, the incident is also being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review.

PHOTOS: (TOP) Family members of a slain homeowner and Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators congregate in front of the home where a wanted parolee allegedly engaged deputies in a shoot-out, killing 54-year-old Frank Mendoza. Ramirez then allegedly took Mendoza’s 60-year-old wife hostage for about eight hours before he was shot and killed by a SWAT team in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive in Pico Rivera in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (Staff photo by Brian Day) BELOW: Frank Mendoza, 54, of Pico Rivera (right), pictured with wife Lorraine Munoz, 60. Mendoza died during a shoot-out between sheriff’s deputies and a fleeing parolee as the suspect forced his way into the couple’s home. Munoz was held hostage by the suspect for more than eight hours before a SWAT team killed him and rescued her in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive in Pico Rivera in the early morning hours on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.
(Courtesy of the Mendoza family)

BELOW:

 

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El Monte Flores gang members indicted on conspiracy, drug trafficking, other charges

LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities Wednesday arrested 18 El Monte Flores gang members and associates who used the former offices of the Boys & Girls Club as their hangout.
The 18 were among 41 people indicted by a federal grand jury last week on charges that include conspiracy, murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, and weapons violations.
Federal officials said the gang conducted illegal activities out of the Boys & Girls Club of America/San Gabriel Valley Club facilities on Mountain View Road.
“They used the club as a place where they would openly sell drugs and collect taxes,” said Vijay Rathi, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The gang also used the club, which recently held community meetings and hosted a car wash fundraiser for a Flores member who was murdered.
“It is very disturbing that a facility that is supposed to give boys and girls protection and a safe place could be used for that,” Mayor Andrew Quintero said.
.. FULL STORY

READ THE INDICTMENT

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UPDATED: USC graduate student found dead in apartment after beating

LOS ANGELES >> A 24-year-old USC engineering graduate student from China was found dead in his apartment after he was beaten while walking home from a study group early Thursday, police said.
LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said the student, identified by USC officials as electrical engineering student Xinran Ji, was attacked about 12:45 a.m. out on the street along 29th Street, near Orchard Avenue.
“The victim was somehow able to get back to his residence, where he was discovered this morning,” Neiman said.
A trail of blood was visible leading up the street and into the City Park Apartments in the 1200 block of 30th Street, where the young man lived. “It’s safe to assume it’s the student’s (blood trail),” Neiman said.
Ji was pronounced dead at the scene.
While a specific suspect description was not available, “we do have information that leads us to believe that at least three subjects were involved in this assault,” Neiman said. A dark-colored vehicle was also possibly connected to the crime.
“It’s believed a blunt force object was used. It’s not known what that object was,” Neiman said.
The motive in the attack was unknown. It was not clear if anything of Ji’s had been stolen.
He was apparently involved in a study group and had just walked home a friend,” Neiman said.

…FULL STORY

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La Puente man, Panorama City man killed in Panorama City 7-Eleven shooting

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Two men who were fatally shot outside a Panorama City 7-Eleven on Thursday have been identified by coroners’ officials as police continued Sunday to hunt two suspects still at large.
The victims were identified as Maron States, 26, of La Puente and Miles DeShawn, 19, of Panorama City, said Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner’s Investigations Unit. The precise cause of death was still pending Sunday morning.
A third man, who was also standing outside the store, was shot in the leg and was taken to a local hospital for treatment, officials said.
A radio call went out at 5:55 a.m. Thursday of an assault with a deadly weapon and shots fired outside the 7-Eleven at 8243 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, said Sgt. S. Carlsen, a watch commander with LAPD’s Mission Station.

… FULL STORY by Brenda Gazzar

PHOTO by Gene Blevins

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