Dugout at La Serna High School destroyed in apparent arson fire

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A dugout alongside the baseball diamond at La Serna High School was destroyed early Thursday in a suspected arson fire, police said.
Firefighters first responded to the fire at the campus, 15301 Youngwood Drive, about 5:30 a.m., Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“We’re suspecting it’s an arson,” Whittier police Sgt. Jim Uhl said.
The dugout also included a locker room and a coaches office, he said.
Officials estimate that the fire caused $50,000 worth of damage.
When school officials arrived at the campus about 7 a.m. and encountered the damage, as well as firefighters, they notified Whittier police, officials said. They became suspicious, as it was the second fire reported at the school this week.
“Apparently, some trash cans were set on fire near the tennis courts Monday night June 9th, however the Whittier Police were not called and no structures were involved,” according to the police statement.
“This morning La Serna High School staff felt that the fires on Monday night and the fires this morning were not isolated events and asked for the Whittier Police Department’s involvement.”
No information regarding a suspect or motive was available, and no further details were released.
Detectives spent about six hours at the scene collecting evidence and searching for clues, officials said. Whittier police detectives are working in conjunction with investigators from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“Other than the fires occurring on this specific campus, there appears to be no specific threats to staff or students and no other fires have been reported to the Whittier Police Department by area schools over the last few months,” according to the police statement.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective Dineen at the Whittier Police Department, which can be reached at 562-567-9241.

PHOTO by Leo Jarzomb

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Woman accused of setting man’s sleeping bag on fire

PASADENA >> A homeless woman was behind bars Wednesday for allegedly setting fire to a sleeping bag with a man inside of it over the weekend.
Dtisha Deshawn Pickett, 37, was booked on suspicion of attempted murder following her arrest Tuesday, according to Pasadena police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
After identifying Pickett as a suspect in the attack, which took place about 10:15 p.m. Sunday at Arroyo Boulevard and Bellevue Drive, a Pasadena Fire Department arson investigator went looking for her, Pasadena police Lt. John Dewar said. He found her shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday and arrested her.
A 53-year-old Pasadena man was asleep inside the sleeping bag when Pickett set it on fire, Pasadena police Sgt. John Mercado said.
The man suffered a burn to his foot, but would not cooperate with investigators, Mercado said.
The woman told him she mistook him for someone else when she set him on fire and apologized, police said. It was not clear Wednesday who the woman intended to set on fire.
Pickett was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending her initial court appearance, according to booking records.

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Alleged arsonist arrested in Norwalk

NORWALK — A man was behind bars Saturday on suspicion of lighting two trees and a business on fire in a Norwalk neighborhood, authorities said.
Eli Swifteagle, 33, was arrested on suspicion of arson within an hour of the second of the two arson fires, which occurred early Friday morning, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Eric Smitson said. His city of residence was not available.
He’s accused of using a lighter to ignite a tree in the 12300 block of Front Street about 3:40 a.m., the lieutenant said. The fire spread to a nearby business, scorching a tarp, some pallets and the roof of an outbuilding.
A second arson fire was reported about 6:45 a.m. at Funston Avenue and Foster Road, Smitson said. The second fire remained confined to a tree.
A passer-by spotted Swifteagle lighting the second fire and called deputies, Smitson said. The suspect was found in the area and arrested.
Deputies were looking into the possibility mental health issues played a role in Swifteagle’s alleged behavior.
According to county booking records, Swifteagle was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail at the Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles pending his initial court appearance.

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Three cars destroyed in San Dimas arson fire

SAN DIMAS — Three parked cars were destroyed in an arson fire early Wednesday, officials said.
Officials responded to a vehicle fire just after 3:40 a.m. in the parking lot of a business park in the 600 block of W. Covina Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Rebecca Rodriquez said.
All three vehicles were owned by the same person, she added.
One of cars appeared to have caught fire first, before the flames spread to the other two, the sergeant said.
The hood of the first vehicle that caught fire had been stolen, Rodriquez said.
It was unclear if the car had been set afire intentionally, or if it had caught fire while someone was attempting to steal parts from it.
The destroyed cars were valued at about $10,000 in all, she added.
Deputies turned the investigation over to the investigators from the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail.

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Transient sentenced for torching Whittier garage

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NORWALK — A homeless woman received a two-year prison sentence Wednesday for lighting a fire that scorched a residential garage in Whittier, authorities said.
Sarah Hope Kleiner, 45, received her sentence from Norwalk Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza after pleading “no contest” to a count of recklessly causing a structure fire in connection with the fire, which broke out about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 8 at a home in the 7600 block of Washington Avenue, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and Whittier police officials.
In addition to the prison term, Espinoza also ordered Kleiner to pay $20,000 in restitution, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Kleiner set fire to a discarded Christmas tree, which then spread to the garage, investigators said. Inside the garage was a treadmill and other personal items belonging to the victim.
Several hours after the garage fire, another Whittier resident reported Kleiner had set fire to a Christmas tree discarded in a trash can, but had fled once confronted by the homeowner, Whittier police official said at the time.
No charges were filed in connection with the second fire, which resulted in no damage.

PHOTO courtesy of the Whittier Police Department

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Pasadena man, West Covina man accused of torching Lexus for insurance money

PASADENA >> Investigators Friday jailed a West Covina and a Pasadena man on suspicion of reporting a car stolen from an Arcadia shopping mall, then torching it in Pasadena in an insurance fraud scheme.
Tony Martinez Jr, 26, of West Covina and Robert Luis Palacios, 44, of Pasadena, were arrested Friday morning and booked on suspicion of arson, conspiracy, insurance fraud and filing a false police report, according to Pasadena Fire Department officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Martinez owned the scorched 2008 Lexus IS 250 involved in the alleged fraud, fire spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. She described Palacios as his friend.
The arrest came following more than six weeks of investigation, which began about 8:45 p.m. Jan. 25 when Pasadena police were notified of a 2008 Lexus IS 250 which was on fire at Lincoln Avenue and Del Monte Street, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said at the time.
After extinguishing the flames, firefighters determined the fire was suspicious, Clawson said. A possible suspect was spotted leaving the area of the burning car.
About 45 minutes later, Martinez called police in Arcadia to report his 2008 Lexus IS 250 had been stolen from the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall, according to Arcadia police Sgt. John Bonomo.
Investigators determined Martinez and Palacios had conspired to stage a fake car theft and torch the Lexus as part of a conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, culminating in Friday’s arrests, Pasadena fire officials said.
According to county booking records, Martinez was released from custody a little more than three hours after his arrest on $50,000 bail. Palacios remained behind bars Friday in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.

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Ex-television dog groomer headed to prison for Pasadena arson

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PASADENA >> A Pasadena pet groomer and former reality television show star pleaded guilty Thursday to arson for torching a carport in 2012, authorities said.
Artis Willie Knox, 32, pleaded guilty to arson of an inhabited structure and identity theft charges in the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.
He was expected to receive a prison sentence of 5 years and 8 months at an April 23 sentencing, Santiago added. Knox will also be required to register as a convicted arsonist on a statewide database.
Knox was named the 2008 “Groomer of the Year” on Animal Planet’s “Groomer Has It” TV show, and subsequently had his own Animal Planet show titled, “Beverly Hills Groomer.”
He set fire to a carport containing five cars that was attached to an apartment building where he was living in the 600 block of South Marengo Avenue on Sept. 8, 2012, according to Pasadena Fire Department officials and prosecutors.
The blaze caused an estimated $200,000 worth of damage to the carport, which was attached to an occupied apartment building, as well as five vehicles inside, according to Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian. Two of the vehicles were destroyed, while the other three were damaged.
Knox was initially charged with six counts of arson: one for the carport and one for each of the scorched cars.
Though he pleaded guilty to a single count of arson, he was ordered to pay restitution for the burned vehicles as well, Santiago said.
Knox ignited the arson fire because he could not afford his rent and hoped the fire would allow him to stay longer, Santiago said.
And Knox had several other suspicious fires in his past, officials said.
“He was previously investigated (for arsons), but had never been charged until now,” Santiago said.
Authorities noted suspicious fired in connection with several homes, businesses and cars, “for which he was in arrears,” Santiago said.
After winning a $50,000 and a grooming truck in the 2008 reality TV contest, Knox opened a pet grooming business in Los Angeles.
But the business closed in 2009 after experiencing a fire. No charges were filed in connection with the grooming shop fire.
In addition to the arson, Knox also pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of identity theft Thursday, officials said.
That charge stemmed from the theft of money from a woman who lived in his Marengo Avenue apartment before he moved in, Santiago explained.
The woman had made a deposit to rent a hall for a wedding, but was ultimately issued a refund by the company, Santiago said.
The check arrived in the mail after the woman had moved out and Knox had moved in, Santiago said. He cashed it.
The amount of money stolen was not available Friday.
Santiago said the handling prosecutor declined to comment on the case pending the sentencing.

— PHOTO courtesy of Jamie Nicholson/Pasadena Fire Department

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Man accused of bizarre break-in, arson in Covina Hills

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COVINA HILLS >> A man refused to get out of a burning car and had to be pulled from the vehicle by firefighters following a bizarre burglary and arson that unfolded Thursday afternoon in an unincorporated county area near Covina, authorities said.
A 32-year-old man was arrested and treated for minor injuries following the alleged unusual crimes, which took place just before 3 p.m. in the 3200 block of Rancho La Carlota Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. David Vega said. The suspects identity was not immediately available.
Firefighters responded to a fire alarm at the home an encountered a black car in the driveway, with flames emanating from the hood and the suspect sitting inside, talking on a cell phone, Vega said.
“He was sitting in there, with an engine fire, with the windows up,” the lieutenant said. The doors were also locked.
Firefighters urged the man to get out of the car as they extinguished the flames, but he refused, Vega said. When the man rolled down a window, apparently due to the thickening smoke, firefighters grabbed him and pulled him from the burning vehicle.
The man, who appeared to be under the influence of an unknown drug, suffered a minor cut and burn.
Officials also discovered the man had broken into the Rancho La Carlota Road home through a window and ransacked the house, causing significant damage, Vega said. It was not immediately clear whether anything had been stolen.
He was also accused of lighting several potted plants around the home on fire.
Vega said the man was a stranger to the residents of the house, who were not home during the incident.
Due to the unusual circumstances of the incident, such as the burning gas can and jumper cables found running into a backyard swimming pool, officials initially feared the home may have been booby trapped, according to sheriff’s radio traffic. But no booby traps were ultimately found.
A motive in the bizarre series of alleged crimes was unclear.

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Transient, teen charged in bombing of Pasadena home on New Year’s Eve

PASADENA — A homeless man and a teenager charged with bombing a vacant Pasadena house on New Year’s Eve for thrills entered not guilty pleas in court Wednesday, officials said.
Steven James Rymer, a 28, and Hosea Daniel Dileoreto, 18, appeared in Pasadena Superior Court, where prosecutors successfully argued for each man’s bail to be increased from $250,000 to $750,000, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.
They are each charged with arson of an inhabited structure, use of a destructive device and explosive to injure or destroy and burglary.
They were ordered back to court Feb. 6 for a preliminary hearing setting, he added.
Rymer is one of several transients who was staying illegally inside the vacant home in the 800 block of N. Oakland Avenue where the fire broke out about 7 p.m. Dec. 31, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
He became acquainted with 18-year-old Hosea Daniel Dileoreto who lived several doors down, she said.
“The motive was thrill and excitement to blow-up a house even though it was (Rymer’s) illegal residence,” Derderian said. “Our Arson Investigator determined it was not part of a larger scheme or greater network of individuals.”
A multi-agency task force arrested Rymer and Dileoreto Friday while serving search warrants, officials said. A SWAT team and a bomb squad stood by in case additional explosives were discovered, though none were, and the men were arrested without a struggle.
The home, which sits about a mile away from the route of the Tournament of Roses Parade held New Year’s Day, had been vacant since April following the death of the owner, according to police and fire officials. The fire caused about $450,000 worth of damage to the home and its contents.
If convicted as charged, Rymer and Dileoreto each face up to eight years in state prison.

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UPDATED: Two men accused of bombing vacant Pasadena home on New Year’s Eve

PASADENA — Police and fire officials carried out a search warrant Friday and arrested two men accused of bombing a vacant home in their neighborhood on New Year’s Eve, officials said.
Pasadena Fire Department’s arson investigator, Pasadena police, a Glendale police SWAT team and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad converged shortly before 7 p.m. at the home of the suspects in the 800 block of N. Oakland Avenue, about 100 feet away from the Dec. 31 arson fire, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
The massive law enforcement presence was brought to bare out of an abundance of caution, in case the suspects had additional explosives, she said. “Nothing further was found.”
Steven James Rymer, 28, of Pasadena and Hosea Daniel Dileoreto, 18, of Pasadena were booking on suspicion of arson, according to Pasadena police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
A motive in the alleged bombing of the vacant home was not clear.
Officials estimated the fire caused $450,000 worth of damage to the home and its contents. The interior of the home, which has been vacant for months following the death of the owner, was described as being filled to pack rat conditions.
According to booking records, Rymer and Dileoreto were being held in lieu of $250,000 bail each pending their initial court appearances.

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