Arcadia man dies following pickup truck crash in Azusa

AZUSA >> An Arcadia man died Sunday after his pickup truck struck a tree in Encanto Park in Azusa, authorities said.
The 57-year-old man died at a hospital following 1 p.m. crash on El Encanto Parkway, north of Huntington Drive, Arcadia police officials said in a written statement. His name was not released pending notification of family.
“The male had been driving a white Toyota Tacoma which appears to have collided into a tree, located in the south end of Encanto Park,” according to the police statement.
Paramedics treated the man and took him to the Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later, police said.
No other vehicles were believed to be involved in the crash, officials said. The cause remained under investigation by the Azusa Police Department Traffic Bureau.

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Chino man convicted of follow-home robbery spree targeting women in the western San Gabriel Valley

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ALHAMBRA >> A Chino man is expected to face more than two-and-a-half centuries in prison after a jury convicted him Wednesday of a string of robberies targeting women arriving home throughout the western San Gabriel Valley, officials said.
An Alhambra Superior Court jury found Jose Lewis Avila, 32, guilty of all counts he was charged with, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
They included nine counts of robbery, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of dissuading a witness and one count of child abuse, Ardalani said. The jury also found true the special allegations that Avila used a dangerous weapon during the crimes, which was ultimately determined to be a BB gun following Avila’s arrest, and that one of his victims, an Arcadia woman was shot with the BB gun, suffered great bodily injury. An Alhambra woman was pistol whipped during one of the robberies.
The robbery spree took place in March and April of 2011 in Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Arcadia, Ayvazian said.
“All of these are basically follow home robberies,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian, who prosecuted the case along with Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Kim.
He targeted women outside their homes as they arrived home alone, investigators said. In the first robbery in Alhambra, a husband and wife were robbed as they arrived home together.
All of the victims targeted by Avila were Asian, Ayvazian said.
Avila was ordered back to court Sept. 26 for sentencing, Ardalani said.
Prior to receiving his sentenced, a judge will review Avila’s criminal history to confirm his status ass a third-strike offender, Ayvazian said.
He’s expected to receive a minimum sentence of 250 years to life in state prison, officials said. The maximum sentence Avila faces is 259 years behind bars.
The 12 charges stemmed from eight incidents, the prosecutor explained. Three robberies, one which involved two victims, occurred in Alhambra. Another three took place in San Gabriel, while one occurred in Arcadia and one took place in Monterey Park.
One of his victims was holding a child in her arms when robbed, resulting in the child abuse charge, officials said.
Avila threatened another of his victims and told her not to contact the police, resulting in a charge of dissuading a witness, Ayvazian said.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge stemmed from the Arcadia robbery, Ayvazian said. When the victim’s daughter overheard the commotion and came out so check on her mother, Avila shot her with the BB gun.
0724_NWS_PSN-L-AVILA2As the spree was ongoing, Alhambra, San Gabriel and Monterey Park police banded together and formed a task force to identify and capture the serial robber.
He was arrested April 20, 2011, after an officer spotted a man and vehicle matching the suspect description driving on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra and stopped it for a broken tail light, Ayvazian said. After learning the driver, later identified as Avila, was on parole, officers searched his car.
Investigators found a realistic-looking BB gun, bandanas, latex gloves and other items that indicated he was searching for new victims when stopped by police, Ayvazian said. A wealth of evidence including eyewitness statement, credit card records, cell phone records and surveillance camera footage also linked Avila to the crimes, officials said.
Additionally, even though Avila covered his face during his crimes, several witness were able to identify him due to his “very unique” eyes and eyebrows, Ayvazian said.
At the time of his arrest, Avila was already on parole in connection with a similar robbery spree that took place in the same area in 2005, Ayvazian said.
He had been arrested and charged with 19 criminal counts, but ultimately admitted two of the robberies under a plea agreement, the prosecutor said. As in the more recent case, some victims identified the masked robber based on his eyes and eyebrows.
While Avila was charged with robbing nine people in the 2011 spree, the police task force assembled to investigate the case capture the serial robber had also looked at Avila in connection with more than ten additional robberies, reaching into Pasadena and South Pasadena, officials said shortly after Avila’s arrest. No charges have been filed in connection with those robberies.
The prosecution presented 22 witness during Avila’s three-and-a-half-day trial, Ayvazian said.
Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before finding Avila guilty an all charges.
“The evidence was on out side,” Ayvazian said. “The jury obviously, in our opinion, did the right thing by bringing justice for our community.

PHOTOS:(Above)  Photo of Jose Avila courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department. (Below) Sketch of serial robber released to the public prior to Avila’s arrest in connection with a follow-home robbery spree continued in the western San Gabriel Valley in April of 2011, courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.

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Porter Ranch man dies following solo-car crash in Arcadia

ARCADIA — A 24-year-old Porter Ranch man died at the scene of a solo-car crash early Sunday, however the circumstances were unclear.
The crash took place about 2:30 a.m. along Santa Anita Avenue near Campus Drive, Arcadia police Sgt. John Bonomo said in a written statement.
The driver of the 2006 Ford Mustang was pronounced dead at the Methodist Hospital in Arcadia at 3:18 a.m., according to Arcadia police and Los Angeles County Department of Coroner officials. His identity was not released pending notification of his family.
A passenger in the Mustang, described as a 26-year-old Sylmar man, was not injured, Arcadia police Sgt. Stephen Fallavollita said.
The car had struck the curb and come to rest against a tree, he said.
The impact from the crash was described as “moderate,” and there were no signs of significant outward trauma on the driver’s body, Fallavollita said.
It was unclear whether the driver died as a result of the crash, or may have suffered a medical problem of some kind that preceded it, officials said. An autopsy was planned.

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Ex-Arcadia police officer pleads ‘no contest’ to embezzling from fellow officers

A former Arcadia police officer pleaded “no contest” Friday to embezzling more than $40,000 from the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association to buy motorcycle parts and other personal items, officials said.
Christian Blesch, 36, entered the plea Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court at a scheduled pre-trial conference, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. He had been charged with one count of grand theft by embezzlement.
Under a plea agreement, Blesch was expected to be sentenced to 180 days in county jail and three years of probation when he returns to court for sentencing Sept. 30, officials said.
If convicted at trial, he faced a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
“Blesch began stealing funds from the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association after being elected as its treasurer in 2011,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Blesch used the association’s credit cards to buy parts and accessories for his own motorcycles as well as other personal items such as clothing, exercise equipment and cigars.”
Blesch paid the monthly credit cards bills with funds from the association’s checking account, prosecutor said.
As part of his plea agreement, Blesch was ordered to pay nearly $42,000 in restitution, according to the district attorney’s office.
The theft took place over the course of several months, Arcadia police Capt. Paul Foley said shortly after Blesch’s arrest in late September.
Blesch resigned from the Arcadia Police Department and turned himself in to officials Oct. 2, a week after investigators obtained a warrant for his arrest Sept. 24, police and district attorney’s officials said.
Blesch remained free on $45,000 bail pending his legal proceeding.
A second Arcadia Police officer was placed on administrative leave along with Blesch when the missing money first came to light in March of 2013, officials said. The officer remains on leave, however, charges have not been filed against him.

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Arcadia man killed in Diamond Bar motorcycle crash identified

DIAMOND BAR — Coroner’s officials have released the name of a 29-year-old Arcadia man who was killed in a freeway motorcycle crash in Diamond Bar Wednesday.
Justen Dillon Wrench died at the scene of the crash, which was reported about 8:35 a.m. Wednesday on the southbound 57 Freeway transition road to the westbound 60 Freeway, according to Los Angeles County Department of Coroner and California Highway Patrol officials.
Wrench was riding south at an unknown speed when he collided with a Honda Civic, CHP Officer Rodrigo Jimenez.
The crash caused Wrench to fall into the roadway, where he was run over by a big rig, the officer said.
An autopsy determined Wrench died from traumatic injuries, and the death was ruled accidental, coroner’s officials said.
The drivers of both the Honda and the big rig remained at the scene, officials said. No arrests were made as the investigation into the cause of the crash continued.

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Arcadia man killed in Diamond Bar motorcycle crash

DIAMOND BAR — A 29-year-old Arcadia man died after being run over by a big rig following a freeway motorcycle crash in Diamond Bar Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
The name of the motorcyclist was not released Wednesday pending notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Joe Bale said.
He was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which occurred about 8:35 a.m. on the transition road connecting the southbound 57 Freeway to the westbound 60 Freeway, just north of Grand Avenue, according to California Highway Officer Rodrigo Jimenez.
The cyclist was riding a 2007 Suzuki GSX-R in the No. 3 lane when he approached a slower-moving 2014 Honda Civic being driven at 20 to 30 mph, Jimenez said. A big rig was also travelling at 10 to 15 mph behind the motorcycle in the No. 3 lane.
“A collision between the Honda Civic and the Suzuki motorcycle occurred,” Jimenez said. “It is unclear at this time how the collision occurred.”
“Subsequently, the rider of the motorcycle was ejected and the Suzuki fell over onto its right side,” Jimenez said. “The motorcycle rider was then struck by the left rear tires of a tractor-trailer combination and sustained fatal injuries as a result.”
CHP officials issued a Sig Alert for more than two hours for the right two lanes of the transition road as they cleared the wreckage and conducted an investigation.
No arrests were made as the investigation continued, officials said.
Any witnesses or anyone with information was asked to contact CHP Officer R. Green at the Baldwin Park office of the CHP at 626-338-1164.

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Arcadia firefighter Mike Herdman remembered through photos

Colleagues of an Arcadia firefighter whose body was discovered in the Los Padres National Forest after he went missing during a camping trip two weeks ago are sharing memories of their fallen comrade through pictures posted to social media.
The body of Mike Herdman was found Friday near the site where he and a fellow firefighter were camping when Herdman disappeared while chasing after his dog on June 13, Ventura County sheriff’s Capt. Dan Aguilar said. The discovery ended a massive search operation that had been ongoing since June 15, when Herdman’s camping partner managed to exit the forest himself and seek help.
As loved ones come to grips with their loss, fellow firefighters are sharing memories of happy times with Herdman via photos posted on the Arcadia Firefighters Association Twitter account, as well as Facebook page.
They ranged from images of Herdman receiving his firefighter’s badge, to pictures of him goofing around with friends or cooking up his gigantic “Herd Burgers.”
Herdman, a seven-year veteran of the Arcadia Fire Department who grew up in Southern California and lived in Dana Point, would have turned 37 Sunday. He’s survived by his wife, Bridget Herdman, and a 6-year-old daughter.
Donations to benefit the Herdman family are being accepted online through the Fire Family Foundation at www.firefamilyfoundation.org/How-to-Donate. Donations should be earmarked “Mike Herdman.”

PHOTOS courtesy of the Arcadia Firefighters’ Association

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UPDATED: Dog belonging to missing Arcadia firefighter found in Los Padres National Forest

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LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST — Search teams hunting through the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County Sunday for missing Arcadia Firefighter Mike Herdman found and captured his dog, who vanished along with Herdman June 13 during a camping trip, authorities said.
Rescuers located Duke Sunday, however his owner remained missing, Arcadia Firefighters Association officials announced via their Twitter account.
The dog, Duke, was found about 1 p.m. near the Dough Flats portion of the forest, near the campsite from where Herdman disappeared, Ventura County sheriff’s Capt. Don Aguilar said.
“The dog was found by friends or family members who went out to Dough Flats,” Aguilar said. They managed to capture the pet, which has eluded searchers for a full week.
“It’s resting. It’s really tired,” the captain said.
The dog appeared to have lost weight while lost in the wilderness, and officials and family members were working to nurse the animal back to full health. Duke was resting in the shade Sunday afternoon.
HerdmanAguilar said the dog had travelled at least 12 miles since the animal and owner disappeared nine days prior near Dough Flats.
Duke was last spotted by searchers Thursday about six miles west of Dough Flats, before being captured back at Dough Flats early Sunday afternoon, officials said.
Duke’s condition did not immediately allow rescuers to use him as a resource to help track down Herdman.
“The dog’s not in any condition to help,” Aguilar said. “The dog is not a useful tool right now.”
But as the dog recovers from it’s ordeal, “If we think there’s an opportunity for him to help, we’ll do that,” Aguilar said.
The search has been ongoing since Herdman’s camping partner, fellow firefighter Taylor Byars, emerged from the forest disoriented June 15 and reported his friend missing, officials said.
Byars reported that Herdman had chased after his dog barefoot, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, and has not been heard or seen since.
Officials said Byars spent a day looking for Herdman, and another day finding his own way out of the wilderness, before he was able to seek help.
More than 85 searchers continued the hunt for Herdman Sunday, Aguilar said. Since its outset, more than 375 officials and volunteers have taken part in the search, contributing more than 5,200 man-hours.
The discovery and capture of Duke came as welcome news to the searchers, Aguilar said.
“I think there’s some encouragement,” he said. “Time is not on our side, unfortunately. There’s always hope.”
“(Herdman) is highly skilled outdoorsman, so that’s why our hopes still high he’s out there,” he said.

PHOTO: Courtesy

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Massive search for missing Arcadia firefighter continues in Los Padres National Forest

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FILLMORE >> Dozens of searchers resumed their hunt in the Ventura County wilderness Saturday for missing Arcadia firefighter Mike Herdman, who disappeared after chasing after his dog while camping more than a week ago, authorities said.
The search team swelled to 86 members, who trekked through Los Padres National Forest and tried to spot the missing firefighter from the air with the aid of two helicopters and two unmanned drones, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow.
Herdman’s dog, Duke, had been spotted by rescuers Wednesday and Thursday, renewing searchers’ hope. But Buschow said there were no sightings of the dog or its owner Friday or Saturday.
“During the night they heard it (barking), but it didn’t come down to the traps,” Buschow said.
“We’re continuing the search,” Buschow said. “L.A. City Animal Services is actively trying to catch the dog.”
While there was no way of knowing if the elusive dog was keeping near its owner, “That’s the hope,” he said.
Fillmore Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Bill Herrera, who was hospitalized in intensive care Thursday after being bit by a “very large rattlesnake” while taking part in the search, continued recovering Saturday, Buschow said.
He received 52 vials of anti-venom and was doing well, the sergeant said.
“Apparently, the hospital was saying it might be a record,” Buschow said.
Three other injuries have been reported during the search, which kicked off June 15, officials said. One searcher suffered a leg injury, and two others were treated for heat exhaustion.
The massive search effort began two days after Herdman disappeared in the Sespe Wilderness, where he had been camping with fellow firefighter Taylor Byars, officials said. After searching for Herdman himself and becoming disoriented, Taylor did not emerge from the wilderness until June 15.
Herdman was described as an avid hiker, though he was barefoot and wearing only a t-shirt and shorts when he vanished while chasing after his dog.
Bare footprints believed to be several days old were found by searchers Monday and Tuesday less than a mile south of where Herdman was last seen.

PHOTO by Sarah Reingewirtz

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Indoor marijuana grow busted in Arcadia; second similar raid in two days

Arcadia police arrested a man Monday who was allegedly growing about 135 marijuana plants in a residence, Arcadia police officials said in a press release.
Tiv Ke Roeung, 40, of Arcadia was arrested for cultivation, officials said.
Roeung is being held at Arcadia Police Department’s jail in lieu of $30,000 bail.
Officers received a tip about a possible grow house in the 500 block of West Huntington Drive, officials said.
Police discovered the plants about 3 p.m. Monday inside the garage of the residence.
“The garage was converted into a marijuana cultivation area with lighting, ventilation, electrical wiring, irrigation, and drying bins strewn throughout the bottom level of the residence,” officials said.
In addition to his arrest, Roeung is also being held without bail on an immigration hold by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, officials said.
He has a scheduled appearance Wednesday at Pasadena Municipal Court, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department booking system.
Monday’s bust was the second time Arcadia police raided an indoor marijuana farm in two days.
Officers seized 438 pot plants and arrested a suspect Saturday at a home in the 2000 block of South Sixth Avenue.

— Venusse Navid and Brian Day

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