ALTADENA >> The specific cause of an explosive house fire that killed an elderly woman and her son earlier this month remains a mystery, though investigators were certain it was accidental, officials said.
Through X-ray comparison, officials Thursday confirmed the identities of Betty Kopp, 85, and her 58-year-old son Robert “Bob” Kopp, who died in the March 7 fire at the home they shared with three roommates in the 2400 block of Holliston Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Chief of Operations Craig Harvey said. They had previously been identified by a roommate, but their official identifications were delayed to to the conditions of their remains.
After a detailed analysis of the scene of the fatal fire, investigators were unable to determine exactly what sparked the fire, Detective Cynthia Valencia of the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail said. The officials cause is listed as “undetermined.”
Investigators have determined the fire started in a bedroom toward the rear of the house where Betty Kopp, who was confined to bed and used oxygen tanks, Valencia said.
And it was clear that the fire was fueled by the oxygen, she said Two of at least eight tanks at the home exploded in the fire.
Nonetheless, “We don’t know exactly what ignited it,” Valencia said.
But the massive fire was so intense it scorched any evidence investigators may have been able to use to narrow down a more specific cause, the detective said.
“It is accidental. We know that,” Valencia said. “There wasn’t any malicious intent.”
Two of the Kopps’ roommates were treated for minor injuries following the fire, officials said.
ALTADENA >> A former teacher at an Arcadia private high school accused of falsely imprisoning three teenagers at knifepoint and demanding they drive him to a fast-food restaurant pleaded “no contest” Thursday to two felony charges, authorities said.
Under a negotiated plea arrangement, ex-John Edward Maust, 34, of Altadena pleaded no contest to two counts of false imprisonment by violence, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said. An additional count of false imprisonment, as well as a count of kidnapping and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon were dismissed.
Pasadena Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu sentenced Maust to five years of formal probation, 180 days of community service and more than 50 Alcoholics Anonymous sessions, Santiago said.
The bizarre crime took place on Saturday, June 7, 2014, after three 17-year-old boys, two of whom were Maust’s students at Arroyo Pacific Academy in Arcadia, were driving around and saw Maust in his driveway, according to district attorney’s and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials.
Maust appeared to have been drinking when jumped into the back of their car, brandished a knife and told the teen’s to drive, Santiago said. Two of the teens got out of the car and called for help.
“When the driver attempted to also exit, Maust placed him in a choke hold with the pocket knife up to him and demanded that he be taken to a fast food restaurant,” Santiago said.
After going to a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant, Maust ordered the driver stop and fled on foot after a sheriff’s helicopter arrived overhead, officials said. He was arrested the following day and released from custody on $300,000 bail, according to county records.
School officials placed Maust on administrative leave at the outset of the investigation, officials said. His employment has since ended, however further details were not available.
ALTADENA >> An elderly woman and her son lost their lives and two other people were hurt in a fire at their home late Saturday, authorities said.
The fire, which gutted the home, was first reported about 10:20 p.m. at the single-story home in the 2400 block of Holliston Ave., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Tuinstra said.
Sheriff’s officials described the victims as a 85-year-old woman and her 58-year-old son.
Neighbor identified them as Betty and Robert “Bob” Kopp.
Authorities did not release the victims’ names Sunday pending positive identification of the badly burned remains, coroner’s Investigator Dana Bee said.
Phillip Marin said he rented a room in the Kopp’s home, along with two other roommates.
Marin was standing in the backyard of the home when an explosion blew out a sliding glass door at the rear of the house.
The explosion was believed to have been caused by oxygen tanks used by the elderly woman, according to sheriff’s officials and neighbors.
The house was quickly engulfed in flames, Marin said.
“I tried to get in, but I couldn’t,” he said.
The two other renters managed to get out of the home, he said. But the woman and her son, who used a wheelchair, did not.
Flames and smoke poured out of most, if not all, of the homes’ windows, county fire Capt. Brian Jordan said. It took firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
Once the fire was out, firefighters discovered the bodies, Tuinstra said.
The two renters who got out of the home were taken to a hospital with apparently minor injuries, the captain said.
The fifth resident of the home, Marin, suffered no injuries.
“There was smoke all the way down the street,” neighbor Ray Martin said.
“The fire department got here and just knocked it down in a hurry,” he added.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, investigators found nothing suspicious at the scene, sheriff’s officials said.
“Though it’s under investigation, it appears accidental,” Jordan said.
A scorched wheelchair, the handset from a wireless home telephone and eight oxygen canisters sat in the front yard of the home Sunday. One of the canisters had ruptured in half.
The fire was first reported by a neighbor, Jordan said. The home had no working smoke alarms and was equipped with security bars on its windows.
Marin said he’d known Bob Kopp for more than a decade.
Bob Kopp took care of his mother, Marin said. “He was a nice guy.”
Marin was caring for Bob Kopp’s pet cat and cockatiel until animal control officials could make permanent arrangements for the animals.
Fire officials estimated the fire caused $700,000 worth of damage.
The Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail was handling the investigation, and anyone with information was asked to contact investigators at 323-881-7500.
ALTADENA >> A man is accused making threats and firing a gun into the ceiling of an Altadena bar Saturday night, officials said.
Deputies arrested Freddy Flores, 51, on suspicion of making criminal threats, negligent discharge of a firearm and drunken driving following the shooting, which took place just before midnight at the Altadena Ale & Wine House, 2329 Fair Oaks Avenue, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and booking records.
Flores hometown was not available, however he was believed to be something of a regular at the bar, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Tuinstra said.
Flores made threats and pulled a revolver, firing three shots into the ceiling, the lieutenant said. He then left the bar and drove off.
It was unclear what precipitated the shooting.
Deputies responding to reports of the shooting found Flores driving nearby and pulled him over, Tuinstra said. “He appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.”
Deputies recovered a revolver from Flores with three fired shell casings still in the cylinder, he said.
According to county booking records, Flores was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Tuesday in Pasadena Superior Court.
PASADENA >> Officials on Wednesday postponed the arraignment hearing for a man accused of stabbing and beating his grandmother at the family home in Altadena last week as the court examines whether the 22-year-old suspect is mentally competent to stand trial, officials said.
Alexander Touloudjian is accused of repeatedly stabbing his 77-year-old grandmother and striking her in the head with an ax handle late Friday at the home they share in the 1700 block of North Allen Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. The woman suffered major injuries but was expected to survive. A motive in the attack was not known.
Touloudjian appeared in Pasadena Superior Court Wednesday to answer to a charge of attempted murder, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. He is also accused of the special allegations that his victim suffered great bodily injury, and that he personally used a deadly weapon in the crime.
But the suspect entered no plea, court officials said. Instead, the defense declared there was a doubt as to Touloudjian’s mental competency to stand trial.
A mental competency hearing was scheduled for March 25 at the Mental Health Courthouse, officials said.
Initially held in lieu of $30,000 bail, Touloudjian’s bail was increased Wednesday to $1.07 million, according to court officials and county booking records.
ALTADENA >> A 22-year-old man beat and repeatedly stabbed his 77-year-old grandmother at an Altadena home late Friday, leaving her severely wounded at a hospital, officials said.
Deputies arrested Alexander Touloudjian at the scene without a struggle and booked him on suspicion of attempted murder, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
Juliet Touloudjian was rushed into emergency surgery at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Lt. Cruz Solis said.
The attack took place about 7:45 p.m. at a home in the 1700 block of N. Allen Avenue, just south of New York Drive, the lieutenant said. The woman was beaten in the head with an ax handle and stabbed multiple times in the torso.
Deputies recovered the ax handle, he said, but the knife used in the attack had not been found.
Though seriously injured, the woman was able to escape the attack and seek help.
“She managed to go to a neighbor’s house,” Solis said. “She was covered in blood. The neighbor called 9-1-1.”
Responding deputies took the grandson into custody at the scene, Solis said. It appeared he made no attempt to flee.
The grandmother lives at the home where the stabbing took place, he said. It was not clear if her grandson lived with her.
Investigators had not determined a motive in the attack.
A man at the Touloudjian home Saturday declined to comment.
Neighbors said they had never known Alexander Touloudjian to be violent and they were stunned to learn of the alleged attack on his grandmother.
The young man, who had lived at the home with his grandmother and sister for more than a decade, took care of his grandmother, said a neighbor who did asked that her name be withheld. She described him as a “very, very nice man,” who studied nutrition at Pasadena City College and worked two jobs washing dishes at local restaurants.
“Everybody liked him. He helped everybody,” the neighbor said. “I’m trying to understand. I can’t.”
She added that the grandson and grandmother seemingly had a close relationship, though Juliet Touloudjian tended to be “very strict” with her grandchildren.
But Alexander Touloudjian did display some odd behavior, the neighbor said. She would sometimes hear him shout out to Jesus in the middle of the night, and had told her more than once that he believed someone was climbing on the roof.
Over the past three weeks or so, however, the neighbor said she noticed a change in Alexander Touloudjian, “Like he was not in this world.”
He would sit and stare for long periods of time, and acted as if he didn’t recognize her, the neighbor said. But when asked if he needed help, he always responded that he was okay.
The neighbor said she hoped Alex Touloudjian would receive treatment, rather than a prison sentence.
“I couldn’t help him. That’s why I’m very said,” she said.
Though she only knew Alexander Touloudjian from brief greetings in passing, “He’s always very nice,” neighbor Marina Kilzi said.
“I still can’t believe it,” neighbor Marina Kilzi said. “I don’t know what happened.”
Alexander Touloudjian was arrested three days prior to the alleged attack on his grandmother on suspicion of being drunk in public, Arcadia police Sgt. John Bonomo said.
He spent a little more than five hours sobering up in jail before he was ultimately released without charges, according to police and booking records.
Alexander Touloudjian’s has no prior violent convictions, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records. He was convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08 percent in July of 2012, and of trespassing in March of 2012.
Alexander Touloudjian was being held in lieu of $30,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Tuesday in Pasadena Superior Court, records show.
ALTADENA >> A deputy shot at, but did not strike, a man accused of stealing form parked cars in a residential Altadena neighborhood early Thursday, authorities said.
Marcus Lamar McGlothurn, 18, of Pasadena was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor theft from unlocked vehicles following the encounter, which took place about 12:20 a.m. on El Molino Avenue, near Sacramento Street, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Lewis said. Neither he nor any deputies were injured during the incident.
Deputies received a call reporting a man peering through windows of parked vehicles and possibly burglarizing them, sheriff’s officials said.
“They located a suspect who fit the description given in the call,” Lewis said. “During the contact the deputies had with the individual, an officer-involved shooting occurred.”
The deputy fired a single shot. Lewis then surrendered.
Investigators found no weapon at the scene, he said. But deputies did recover several pieced of property allegedly stolen from parked cars in the area.
Officials released no information regarding what prompted the deputy to open fire.
The investigation was being spearheaded by sheriff’s gang detectives.
According to county booking records, McGlothurn was cited and ordered to appear in Pasadena Superior Court on April 10.
PASADENA >> An 18-year-old Altadena man is accused of being drunk and street racing when he crashed a car in Pasadena late Thursday, killing a 17-year-old passenger and injuring three others, police said.
Police arrested Gerardo Garcia on suspicion of drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter following the 12:20 a.m. crash on Washington Boulevard at Lincoln Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. John Luna said.
The name of the teenage passenger who died following the crash was not available Sunday. Police described him as a 17-year-old Riverside resident. Garcia and three other teenage passengers of the car suffered minor to moderate injuries.
“According to independent witnesses, two vehicles had been street racing while traveling on Washington when the collision occurred,” Luna said.
Garcia was at the wheel of a 2004 Nissan sedan, Lt. Art Chute said.
“It appears they were street racing, and during the race, they collided,” Chute said.
The Nissan then went out of control, police said.
“(The car) lost control and struck the freeway overpass embankment, causing the vehicle to overturn at least once,” Luna said.
The badly injured Riverside teen was taken to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena where he succumbed to his injuries at 7:39 a.m., Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Dana Bee said.
The teen who ultimately died from his injuries was outside the car when rescuers arrived, however it was unclear whether he had been thrown from the car in the crash, or pulled from the wreckage afterward, officials said.
Two teenage girls riding in the Nissan suffered injuries described as moderate, while fourth passenger — a teenage boy — suffered minor injuries, Chute said.
After being treated for his injuries, Garcia was booked at the Pasadena Police Department Jail, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records. He was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.
The crash remains under investigation by the Pasadena Police Department’s Major Accident Investigation Team.
ALTADENA >> A fire caused major damage to an Altadena garage and home Friday afternoon, authorities said.
No one was hurt in the fire, which was first reported about 2:30 p.m. in the 2600 block of Lincoln Avenue, Sgt. T. Crosswhite of the sheriff’s Altadena Station said.
The fire started in the garage and spread to the house, officials said.
“It was severe damage,” Crosswhite said. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available.
Neighbor Cheryl Branum said she spotted the fire and called 9-1-1.
“I came home for lunch time and smelled smoke in my backyard. It didn’t smell like a chimney smoke or cigarette smoke, and within seconds, a big, huge, black ball of smoke and high flames were shooting over my yard,” Branum said.
“I frantically ran outside and I yelled at the neighbors. And the next think I know, I started hearing popping, exploding, and I called 9-1-1.
“Before you know it, the whole back part of their house was completely engulfed in flames.”
Sheriff’s deputies who arrived on-scene before firefighters grabbed hoses and started trying to put water on the burning home, she said. “My stupid nozzle wouldn’t turn on”.”
A family living in the home managed to get out safely before firefighters arrived, Crosswhite said. They were expected to be displaced from their home for at least one night.
After extinguishing the flames, firefighters teamed with the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail to investigate the cause of the fire, Crosswhite said. The investigation was ongoing late Friday.
Officials also worked to clean the scene and check for any possible hazardous chemicals, as officials recieved intiial reports that there were containers of some type of chemicals stored in the garage, officials said. Further details were not available.
Branum said she was glad no one was injured in the fire.
VIDEO by Walt Mancini
ALTADENA >> Rescuers rushed a mountain biker to a hospital in critical condition after he took a bad fall and struck his head on a mountain road in Altadena, fire officials said.
The crash was reported about 12:15 p.m. the Brown Mountain Truck Trail, atop Rising Hill Road at Altadena’s northern boundary, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett said.
The victim, initially described only as male, took a fall as he was riding with a group of bicyclists, Pickett said. He suffered major head trauma.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter happened to be nearby, Pickett said. The airship arrived at the scene within four minutes and took the badly injured cyclist to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena for treatment, Pickett said.
No further details were available.