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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
WHITTIER — Police jailed a homeless woman Wednesday after she allegedly torched one discarded Christmas tree and garage, then tried to set fire to a second discarded Christmas tree, authorities said.
Sarah Hope Kleiner, 45, was booked on suspicion of arson following Wednesday’s early-morning fires, Whittier police officials said Thursday in a written statement.
Officials were first summoned about 4:30 a.m. to a structure fire in the 7600 block of Washington Avenue.
“When officers arrived, they found a Christmas tree on fire in a trash can which was near the garage,” according to the police statement. “The garage subsequently caught fire while L.A. County Fire was responding.”
Officer evacuated the residents from the home, and the residents informed them that there was no one inside the garage, officials said.
“Damage to the garage was extensive and no one was injured,” the statement said.
Just under three hours later, police received a call from a resident in the area of Greenleaf Avenue and Walnut street reporting a woman trying to set a Christmas tree in a trash can alongside his home on fire with a cigarette lighter.
“The witness confronted the female and she left,” the police statement said.
But officers recognized the woman’s description from previous encounters, including one at a laundromat earlier in the day, police said. The was found at Comstock Avenue and Wardman Street and arrested.
According to county booking records, Kleiner was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail at the Whittier Police Department jail pending her initial court appearance.
PHOTO of Sarah Kleiner courtesy of the Whittier Police Department.
PASADENA — A house fire that badly damaged a vacant house on New Year’s Eve may have been the work of an arsonist, authorities said.
The fire broke out just before 9:45 p.m. in the 800 block of North Oakland Avenue, just south of Mountain Street, Pasadena police and fire department officials said.
No one was hurt in the fire, which caused an estimated $450,000 worth of damage to the small, single-story house and its contents, fire officials said. The home filled to what officials described as pack rat conditions.
The investigation into the cause of the fire remained ongoing Wednesday, however officials suspected arson, Pasadena police Lt. Terysa Rojas said. Transients have been known to inhabit the vacant home.
“The origin and cause of the fire was determined to be an open flame with the use of an accelerant,” Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. “We are investigating to determine who is responsible for setting the fire.”
The first firefighters to arrive at the scene encountered smoke coming from the rear of the house, fire officials said. The roof of the home became unstable, forcing firefighters to evacuate the building and continue pouring water on the flames from outside.
The home has been vacant since its owner died several months ago, Rojas said.
No information regarding a possible suspect was available.
AZUSA — Police and arson investigators suspected “very suspicious” series of fires reported in a brush area near Fish Canyon Sunday may have been the work of an arsonist, authorities said.The first in a series of three fires was reported about 12:40 p.m. along Encanto Parkway, near the Vulcan Materials Company on Fish Canyon Road, Azusa police and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
Firefighters made quick work of the spot fires, which were under control in matter of minutes, fire Dispatch Supervisor Bernard Peters said. Water dropping aircraft were on stand-by, but ultimately were not needed.
The three small fires scorched less than an acre in total, but caught the eye of arson investigators.
“They’re suspected to be deliberately set,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Gerald Gonzales said. He added that investigators were, “leaning toward arson.”
It appeared homeless people camp in the area, however it was not immediately clear if that played a role in the fires, he said.
Officials noted several suspicious factors in connection with the fire.
“When our officers went on-scene, it appeared to them that there were flare-ups that were occurring in what almost looked like measured intervals,” Schmidt said.
Additionally, “They did find a motorcycle that appeared to have been concealed nearby,” the sergeant said. The registered owner could not be found.
“At the very least, it’s very suspicious,” Schmidt said.
Another small fire was reported in the same general area and quickly extinguished by 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Gonzales added. The cause of that fire was not determined.
The fire burned very close to the scene of the Madre Fire, which scorched 268 acres in late-September.
That fire was determined to be human caused, though investigators stopped short of labeling it arson, Schmidt said.
PASADENA — Officials arrested a Pasadena man Friday on suspicion of setting fire to his own car in an alleged arson earlier in the year.
Mazi Taylor, 55, was arrested about 2 p.m. on suspicion of four arson-related charges, according to Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian and Los Angeles County booking records.
He’s accused of torching his own 2007 Suzuki Forenza in the early morning hours of Sept. 30 as it was parked in the 1200 block of North Mentor Avenue, Pasadena police and fire officials said.
A man was spotted running from the scene, and the fire was immediately suspected to be the work of an arsonist, officials said.
He told investigators at the time that he was at work when the fire broke out, and had been notified by his girlfriend that his car was on fire.
But the Pasadena Fire Department’s arson investigator concluded differently, arresting Taylor in connection with the fire Friday afternoon.
The motive in the alleged crime was not available.
According to booking records, Taylor was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.