ALHAMBRA >> A judge sentenced a Chino man to 374 years to life in prison Thursday for a spree of follow-home robberies targeting lone Asian women throughout the San Gabriel Valley in 2011, officials said.
An Alhambra Superior Court convicted Jose Lewis Avila, 33, of nine counts of robbery, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime and one count of child abuse. The 12 charges stem from a eight incidents in March and April of 2011, investigators said.
Three robberies, one of which involved two victims, occurred in Alhambra, officials said. Three of he robberies occurred in San Gabriel, one occurred in Arcadia and one took place in Monterey Park.
“The defendant targeted women driving alone,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Once the victims arrived at their homes, Avila accosted them and demanded their money and property. During each robbery, the defendant used a BB gun and covered his face with a bandana or mask.
But detectives managed to identify Avila the culprit in the crimes through surveillance video and credit card charges, officials said.
Additionally, Avila’s “unique” and “pretty” eyes helped victims point him out as their attacker, said Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Kim.
Avila was convicted of a similar string of crimes in 2005, Ayvazian said.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge was the result of Avila shooting one of his victims in the face with a BB gun during a robbery in Arcadia, officials said. He also threatened a witness not to contact the police, leading to the charge of dissuading a witness. And one of the robbery victims was holding a child in her arms during the crime, resulting in the charge of child abuse.
According to district attorney’s officials, the jury also found true special allegations that Avila used a deadly and dangerous weapon, the BB gun, in his crimes, and that he inflicted great bodily injury.
PHOTO of Jose Avila, 33, of Chino, courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.
ALHAMBRA >> A Pomona man pleaded “no contest” to a vehicular manslaughter charge Thursday for a drunken driving crash in Alhambra that claimed the life of one of his passengers, a 21-year-old female rapper from Los Angeles, authorities said.
Jacob G. Garcia Jr., 51, entered the plea in Alhambra Superior Court in connection with the Dec. 16, 2010, crash on the 10 Freeway in Alhambra, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Under a negotiated plea arrangement, Garcia pleaded “no contest” to a single count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, officials said. Charges of murder, DUI causing injury or death and driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent were dismissed.
“Under the terms of the negotiated plea, Garcia is expected to be sentenced to 13 years in state prison,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Garcia was ordered back to court Feb. 5 for sentencing and a restitution hearing.
He was drunk when he got behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz C 250 with five passengers during a rainstorm, according to CHP officials.
Garcia’s car veered to the side of the road about 12:45 a.m. on the westbound 10 Freeway, just west of Fremont Avenue, in Alhambra, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Connie Guzman said at the time. The car slammed into a backhoe that was parked along the right shoulder in a construction zone.
Passenger and rapper Maria Faith Solomon died from injuries suffered in the crash, authorities said. Two teenage boys who were also riding as passengers suffered serious injuries in the crash as well. Garcia suffered minor injuries in the crash.
ALHAMBRA >> Police are seeking whoever vandalized the Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Alhambra Wednesday, just ahead of Veterans Day.
Park workers discovered sloppy lettering scrawled across the Veteran Memorial Wall about 8:30 a.m., Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said.
The curved wall marred by the graffiti is inscribed with the Thomas Jefferson quote: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Bricks arranged in front of the wall bear the names of local service members who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
The painted message included two apparent monikers, along with the symbol of a local “tagging crew,” Johnson said.
“The fact that they would do it to a veterans’ memorial is appalling,” Johnson said. “There’s no question they knew exactly what they were doing.” Johnson served as a medic in the U.S. Army in the 1980s.
“Speaking as a veteran… I can see why it would really push some people’s buttons,” the sergeant said.
In addition to the graffiti on the memorial at the northwest corner of Alhambra Park, the workers also found similar markings elsewhere in the park, including on a nearby swimming pool facility, police said.
“They’re a group of teenage hooligans, if you will,” he said. “Many of them live in that general area.”
Investigators were working with school officials to identify the culprit or culprits, Johnson said.
“We’re hoping to get someone in custody soon,” he said.
Workers had cleared the graffiti from the memorial by Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said. “It looks like they were able to clean it off really well.”
A Facebook post from the Alhambra Police Department late Wednesday describing on the incident had received more than 200 “likes” and 150 comments by Thursday afternoon.
“That’s disgusting! And to think my son is in the military fighting for the freedom of these low lives!!” Stacey Calzada posted.
“This is a slap in the face to our veterans, and Alhambra won’t stand for it!” Joe Mojica posted. “I would like to see more patrols and more police presence around the park.”
The dollar-value estimate of the damage was still being calculated Thursday, but was expected to amount to nearly $1,000, Johnson said.
PHOTO courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department
ALHAMBRA >> Police arrested a father and son who brought a handgun and metal knuckles to a family dispute in Alhambra Sunday, officials said.
Stephen Diaz, 19, and his father Edward Diaz, 45, both of Los Angeles, had been involved in an argument with family members when they showed up about 10 a.m. at the home of their relatives on Midvale Place, near Concord Avenue, Alhambra police Sgt. Esther Rodriguez said. The relatives called police.
Officers searched the elder Diaz and found he was carrying a small-caliber handgun and two loaded magazines, police said. His son was carrying metal knuckles, which are illegal to possess, and a realistic-looking airsoft pistol, which shoots plastic BBs, Rodriguez said.
Both men were booked on suspicion of making criminal threats, conspiracy to commit a crime and attempted assault with a deadly weapon, Rodriguez said. Edward Diaz was additionally suspected of illegal gun possession, and his son was booked on suspicion of possessing of metal knuckles.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department
PASADENA >> A fist fight between two roommates in Old Pasadena early Saturday left one man on life support and another behind bars, police said.
Joseph Rafael, 31, of Alhambra, was not expected to survive the injuries he suffered in the 1 a.m. fight in the 100 block of South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. Art Chute said. He remained hospitalized on life support Saturday night with major head injuries.
Police arrested his roommate, 30-year-old Giorgio Inigo Bustamante, on suspicion of attempted murder.
The two men had just attended a birthday party when they became involved in a dispute on the sidewalk, Chute said.
“Mr. Rafael and Mr. Bustamante became involved in an argument with each other that escalated into a physical altercation.”
Rafael ended up on the sidewalk with a severe head injury, the lieutenant said. It was unclear if the injuries were the result of blows, or his head striking the ground.
No weapons were involved in the fight, Chute said. “Just fists.”
Police responding to a witnesses’ 9-1-1 call reporting a “person down” found Rafael pulseless, Chute said. Officers performed CPR until paramedics arrived to rush Rafael to the hospital.
Bustamante remained at the scene, Chute said. “He made no attempt to flee.”
According to county booking records, Bustamante was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending his initial court appearance.
ALHAMBRA >> Police arrested two men with a stolen, loaded handgun Wednesday in an area of Alhambra hit hard by burglaries in recent weeks, officials said.
An officer was on patrol shortly before 1 p.m. in the southeast portion of the city, where authorities have noted a spike in burglaries lately, Alhambra police Sgt. Brandon Black said.
The officer pulled over a car for a traffic violation in the 1100 block of South Stoneman Avenue, Black said. The officer smelled marijuana, and a police K-9 confirmed the presence of marijuana residue inside a gym bag and a purse inside the car.
Further searching led police to discover a loaded revolver that had been reported stolen in a Monterey Park burglary, the sergeant said.
The two suspect — described as a Los Angeles man and a Lawndale man, both in their 20s — were booked on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy and possession of a stolen firearm as detectives continued working to link them to additional crimes, Black said. Police withheld their names Wednesday, citing and ongoing investigation.
YOLO COUNTY >> Authorities scaled back their search for a missing Alhambra man and former Harlem Globetrotter who vanished earlier this month while driving to Washington State, Yolo County sheriff’s officials said.
The search for Rick Omarr Harris, 37, began Oct. 14 after deputies noticed his Nissan sedan had been sitting for two days along State Route 16, near Rumsey, in a wilderness park in Yolo County, Yolo County sheriff’s Lt. Lance Faille said.
An investigation determined he was en route to Seattle, where he had recently moved with hid girlfriend from Alhambra, officials said. He had stopped in Alhambra Oct. 9 to pick up some belongings before heading back to Washington about 1 a.m. Oct. 10.
Harris called his mother about 9:30 a.m. Oct. 10 and said he was tired and planning on pulling over to rest, Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said. He have no sign of distress.
Officials scoured the area by foot, ATV and aircraft, Yolo County sheriff’s Capt. Larry Cecchettini said. Officials also called upon the public to keep an eye out for Harris.
After a full week of searching the area surrounding where Harris car was found, “The search has failed to locate Harris or provide evidence other than his vehicle and a few personal effect,” the captain said.
The physical search was scaled back Wednesday, though extra patrols were to continue in the area with both marked and unmarked patrol cars, sheriff’s officials said.
“We will not comment on the onoing investigation other than to say that no foul play is suspected,” Cecchettini said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at 530-668-5280.
PHOTO – Courtesy
MONTEREY PARK >> Homicide detectives sought clues Wednesday into the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old man in the parking lot of a business.
Edward Mendoza, 35, died at a hospital after he was wounded in the stabbing about 9:10 p.m. Tuesday at the corner of Portrero Grande and Arroyo drives, Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. He was believed to have been staying in Monterey Park.
Few details were available regarding the stabbing. No description of the killer was known.
After being stabbed, Mendoza managed to call 9-1-1 from a cell phone to seek help, Corina said.
Responding police officers and paramedics found Mendoza collapsed at what was believed to be the scene of the stabbing in the parking lot of a business park, Corina said.
Paramedics took Mendoza to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries at 10:11 p.m., Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
A friend and co-worker of the victim at the city of Alhambra, who did not want to be identified, said that the victim worked with children as a physical education coach.
“It’s a huge loss to the family. We are very close,” he said.
Alhambra city officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A second man, who identified himself as the victim’s childhood friend, believes the victim may have been leaving from the home of his mother, who lives in the area.
According to the man, the victim not drive and took public transportation to get around. He also said the victim was found with his backpack and wallet.
The motive in the fatal stabbing remained under investigation.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like he was robbed,” Corina said.
The circumstance leading up to the killing also remained unclear Wednesday. “We don’t know what he was doing there,” Corina said.
Mendoza had been staying several blocks away, but within walking distance, from the parking lot where he was stabbed, the lieutenant said.
Other than that he needed help, Corina declined to discuss what Mendoza said during his call to 9-1-1 after being stabbed, citing the ongoing investigation.
The weapon used in the killing had not been recovered Wednesday afternoon, he said.
Detectives Wednesday continued reviewing surveillance cameras at nearby businesses for clues, Corina added.
Virginia Schellberg, an employee at Southern California Funeral Service located in the business complex, said the victim’s girlfriend and best friend were at the scene at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“They said there was no reason for him to out walking (at that hour) and they don’t understand how it happened,” Schellberg said. “They stopped by because they wanted to see where it happened. They’re devastated.”
Anyone with information is asked to call LASD Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
Friends set up an online fund to collect donations to benefit Mendoza’s family at www.gofundme.com/fvoges.
- By Venusse Navid and Brian Day
PHOTO of crime scene by Venusse Navid
PHOTOS of Edward Menoza, courtesy
A day after police arrested five students from a USC fraternity on suspicion of stealing plants and statues from an Alhambra neighborhood to use as party decor, a group of fellow students announced plans to replace the allegedly pilfered ornaments.
A neighbor reported seeing young men shearing off the tops of palm trees and helping themselves to five garden statues shortly after 1 a.m. in the 300 block of South Almansor Street, Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said. The statues depicted ducks, a cat and Buddha, Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said.
Police soon stopped a pickup truck containing the items, as well as five members of USC’s Sigma Nu fraternity.
Officers arrested Dylan Walter, 19, Miles Horton, 18, Graham Vines, 18, Darshan Patel, 18, and Eyobed Mesfun, 19, on suspicion of theft and conspiracy to commit theft.
A group of seven USC fraternities banded together and released a statement Thursday to denouncing the alleged theft and promising to repair the affected neighborhood.
“Right now, we all look bad. But we are going to show the families of Alhambra that this is not what we are about,” Tau Kappa Epsilon President Joe Mallick said.
Members of the Tau Kappa Epsilon, Theta Xi, Phi Delta Theta, Beta Theta Pi, Alpha Gamma Omega, Pi Kappa and Sigma Alpha Mu planned to buy plants and decorations to replace the ones involved in Wednesday’s incident and deliver them to Almansor Street, the statement said.
Tau Kappa Epsilon Educator Andrew Sanford said actions speak louder than words.
When visiting the Alhambra neighborhood, “We are going to wear USC shirts. We want everyone to know that Trojans believe in service to others. And we want to show that when some of our own make a mistake, we are there to make it right.”
All five suspects were released from jail Wednesday pending their initial court appearances after posting $20,000 bail each, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
ALHAMBRA >> Police wrote 75 tickets to drivers who allegedly failed to stop for pedestrians Tuesday during a sting at an intersection where two pedestrians have been struck and seriously injured by cars over the past two weeks.
The pedestrian “decoy” operation was held from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Valley Boulevard and 7th Street, Alhambra police Lt. Gary LaGuard said.
Police officers wearing brightly colored reflective vests crossed the street in a crosswalk as their counterparts in uniform stopped and ticketed drivers who failed to yield for the pedestrians.
A crowd of people gathered to watch the operation applauded officers at one point, police said. A 25-year-old Alhambra woman was as struck and seriously injured by a car at the intersection Sept. 16.
The woman was hospitalized with injuries, including a broken back after, she was struck by a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu about 11:30 p.m., Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said. The impact threw the woman about 80 feet.
Another woman was struck and badly injured by a Honda Accord at the same intersection about 6:40 p.m. Sept. 11, Johnson said.
Neither driver was arrested or cited as Alhambra police continued their investigation, police said.
On the Alhambra Police Department’s Facebook page, motorists expressed both approval and frustration. And many said they believed the addition of signal lights or pedestrian crossing lights at the intersection would improve safety.
“Instead of giving tickets, how about improving pedestrian safety? Not by ticketing, but by improving the drivers senses and awareness to the pedestrians. Flashing lights, marked crosswalks, sound, bigger signs, crossing guards during peak hours, etc… Penalizing drivers doesn’t make them any better vs. fixing the actual problem,” Gian Carlo F. Sevilla posted on the social media site.
Tony Leu approved of the operation.
“Great job APD! Many motorists just don’t pay enough attention to pedestrians,” he wrote.
Some posters embraced both points of view.
“Good job, but the city should really invest money in creating safer streets by way of infrastructure redesign,” Andrew Fung Yip wrote.
The Alhambra Police Department’s own post announcing the decoy operation received 637 “likes.”