BALDWIN PARK >> A jury Friday convicted a West Covina man of the murder of a 26-year-old transgender woman who was ound beaten to death in a Baldwin Park motel in 2013.
A Pomona Superior Court Jury found Stephen Gonzales, 30, guilty of the first-degree murder of the victim known to loved ones as Melony Smith. She was listed by coroner’s officials under birth name, Vanhxay Inthichack.
Smith’s body was found about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2013, inside her room at a motel in the 13900 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials.
The jury found Gonzales not guilty of robbing Smith, though they did convict Gonzales of the lesser offense of petty theft, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The jury also did not find true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of robbery, which would have made Gonzales eligible for capital punishment.
Despite the jury’s decision not to convict Gonzales of robbery, prosecutors believe that was motive in the killing, Ardalani said.
“Our office believes Gonzales wanted to rob the victim of her property,” Ardalani said.
Leticia Alvarado, who worked at the motel where Smith was staying on-and-off for about a year, said she became close friends with the “funny and outgoing” Smith, who she called, “sister.”
Smith, who moved away from home at age 16 because her family disapproved of her lifestyle, graduated Sierra Vista High School and worked for security company, Alvarado said shortly after the slaying.
Another friend of Smith’s, Misty Vale, said her friend had been saving up money to buy a car and planned to return to school to become a dental hygienist.
Gonzales faces a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing Feb. 11, Ardalani said.
PHOTO: Melony Smith, 26. (Courtesy)
BALDWIN PARK >> Police are seeking a man who shot and seriously wounded a woman as she sat in her car in the parking lot of a Baldwin Park liquor store early Saturday.
Officers responded to a report of “shots fired” about 1 a.m. and found gold, four-door sedan that had crashed into a block wall along the surrounding and old rock quarry pit at Azusa Canyon Road and Olive Street, Baldwin Park police Lt. Shawn Blackburn said.
Police soon discovered the female driver had been shot, the lieutenant said. It appeared she was shot while sitting in her car in the parking lot of a nearby liquor store before her car lurched forward, crossed Olive Street and crashed into the wall.
Paramedics took the woman to a hospital where she was listed in critical-but-stable condition, he said.
A detailed suspect description was not available, nor were further details regarding the circumstances of the shooting.
BALDWIN PARK >> An Al Monte gang member who was accidentally released from custody, then-recaptured in Mexico, while awaiting trial for two separate Baldwin Park shootings received a lifetime prison sentence last week, authorities said.
A Pomona Superior Court jury convicted Johnny Mata, 34, of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in August, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. The jurors hung on additional charges of murder, and a second county of possession of a firearm by a felon. Prosecutors were yet to decide whether to seek a retrial for Mata on those counts.
Judge Thomas C. Falls sentenced Mata Friday to life in prison, plus 25 years behind bars, Ardalani said.
Mata, along with Jesus Arroyo Lule, 34, of El Monte and Christina Montenegro, 27, were initially arrested in connection a n allegedly gang-related shooting that left 34-year-old David Anthony Deanda of Baldwin Park dead on Christmas Eve, 2010, in the 13200 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles county sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
Lule pleaded “no contest” to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in 2014 for Deanda’s slaying and is scheduled to be sentenced by Pomona Superior Court Judge Mike Camacho on Jan. 29, Ardalani said. A charge of attempted murder was dismissed as part of the plea arrangement.
Montenegro pleaded no contest to a charge of forgery in July of 2013, Ardalani said. A murder charge was dismissed, and Montenegro was sentenced to three years in county jail. Records indicate she has since served her time and been released.
Deanda, a welder, was survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter, family said.
District attorney’s officials declined to discuss the details of Deanda’s slaying pending the potential second murder trial to come.
Mata’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Though the jury failed to reach a verdict in the murder case, they convicted Mata of charges related to a second, separate shooting on April 21, 2012, in Baldwin Park.
Mata, described by authorities as an El Monte gang member, opened fire on a rival gang member in front of the victim’s home in Baldwin Park, Ardalani said. The intended target was not struck by the gunfire.
As he awaited trial, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials accidentally released Mata on April 4, 2013, as a result of what sheriff’s officials described as a clerical error. The erroneous release at the sheriff’s Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles occurred after a judge had dismissed an attempted murder charge against Mata, but not other charges, including murder.
El Monte police initially arrested Mata in May of 2012 after he ran from a stolen car, according to El Monte police Lt. David Vautrin.
Following his improper release by sheriff’s officials
After spending more than a year as a fugitive, Mexican authorities, aided by American investigators, found and re-captured Mata in Mexico in May of 2014 and returned him to the U.S. to face trial.
BALDWIN PARK >> A man was hospitalized in critical-but-stable condition with a gunshot wound and his wife suffered a severe facial injury after being pistol-whipped following what was believed to be an incident of domestic violence in Baldwin Park early Saturday, police said.
A man driving a pickup truck flagged down a police officer about 12:30 a.m. at Maine Avenue and Ramona Boulevard and said that his brother had been shot, and was in the bed of the truck, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Shawn Blackburn said.
The driver sped off before providing more details, the sergeant said. Officers gave chase until the driver pulled over at Puente Avenue and Amar Road in the unincorporated county area of Bassett.
Police summoned paramedics to treat the gunshot victim, who had been shot in the abdomen, Blackburn said. He was hospitalized in critical-but-stable condition.
Officers arrested the wounded man’s 45-year-old brother on suspicion of evading police, he said.
About the same time, a woman arrived at a Baldwin Park emergency room with a severe facial injury apparently suffered while being struck with a handgun, Blackburn said. It was soon determined the injured woman is the wife of the man who had been shot.
Detectives believed the violence was the result of a domestic dispute that occurred in a residential neighborhood in the area of Feather Avenue and Macdevitt Street in Baldwin Park, police said.
Neither the husband or wife had been arrested Saturday as the investigation continued into exactly what took place, Blackburn said.
The shooting victim’s brother remained jailed in lieu of $75,000 bail Saturday afternoon, Los Angeles County booking records show.
Officials continued investigating the intentions of the wounded man’s brother, including whether he may have been trying to seek help for his wounded brother when he led police on the chase, Blackburn added.
BALDWIN PARK >> Fellow law enforcement officers from throughout the San Gabriel Valley bid farewell to CHP sergeant who headed out for his last shift Wednesday after three decades of service to the Southland.
Police from Covina, West Covina and Pomona joined in the morning briefing at CHP’s Baldwin Park area office to send off Sgt. Mike Dulong, the senior ranking sergeant in the CHP, colleagues said.
“The Baldwin Park Area was fortunate to have Sergeant Mike Dulong at our Station,” Baldwin Park Area Commander Capt. Steve Urrea said. “Sergeant Dulong brought a great feel in professionalism, commitment, and dedication to his profession which he passed on to his subordinates for many, many years.”
The CHP’s Baldwin Park area office serviced most of the San Gabriel Valley, and CHP officers regularly work with other area police agencies.
“We’ve all encountered him in the field. That’s where the friendships began,” West Covina police spokesman Rudy Lopez said. “He’s had an impact on a lot of people. He’s a great leader.”
West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said Dulong has a “heart of gold.”
“He has been an asset to all the agencies in the San Gabriel Valley,” the lieutenant said.
Dulong, a 55-year-old Inland Empire resident, said the additional guests at Wednesday’s briefing were “a pleasant surprise.”
The sergeant began his career at the CHP’s Baldwin Park area office in 1986, before transferring to San Jose two years later, he said.
Having grown fond of Southern California, Dulong transferred back to the CHP’s Baldwin Park area office in 1989. He moved to the South Los Angeles station when he promoted to sergeant in 1992, but returned to Baldwin Park the following year.
Dulong said he kept returning to Baldwin Park because the San Gabriel Valley is his favorite area to work in.
“I’m like a boomerang,” he quipped, adding that he enjoyed both dealing with the people and working Southern California’s extensive highway system.
Dulong has served as a motorcycle sergeant for the past 11 years, adding that patrolling on two wheels has been his favorite assignment.
He said the thing he will miss most about the job is his colleagues, both within the CHP and other law enforcement agencies.
PHOTO: Officials from the Covina, West Covina and Pomona police department bid farewell to Sgt. Mike Dulong of the California’s Highway Patrol’s Baldwin Park area office, who retired Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, after 30 years of service. Dulong was the senior-ranking CHP sergeant in California. From left to right: West Covina police Capt. Doug Muray, West Covina police Lt. Pat Benschop, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton, West Covina police Lt. Dave Lee, CHP Sgt. Mike Dulong, Covina police Lt. Tim Doonan, Covina police Capt. John Curley, Pomona police Lt. Christian Hsu. (Courtesy, West Covina Police Department)
IRWINDALE >> Police working a DUI patrol in Irwindale late Christmas night arrested an alleged drunken driver who led them on a chase in a stolen pickup truck that ended in a crash at a park in Baldwin Park, authorities said.
Miguel Higuera Lujan, 36, of Baldwin Park remained jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail Saturday on suspicion of auto theft, DUI and hit-and-run, according to Irwindale police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Two officers were working an extra enforcement operation in search of intoxicated drivers just after 11 p.m. when they saw a 1994 Nissan pickup truck run a stop sign at Ramona Boulevard and Elton Avenue, Irwindale police Sgt. George Zendejas said.
The driver refused to pull over, starting a chase, the sergeant said. He fled for about a mile, running through a red light otherwise driving recklessly, before driving the truck through the basketball court at Hilda L. Solis Park, at 15010 Badillo Street in Baldwin Park.
“Thankfully, there was no one in the area,” Zendejas said.
Lujan jumped from the still-moving truck and continued to flee on foot. The truck came to a stop after crashing into a chain link fence at the edge of a flood control channel, officials said. Police soon captured the fleeing suspect nearby.
Police determined the truck had been reported stolen in the Temple City area.
Zendejas commended the involved officers.
“This was outstanding work on behalf of the officers working the DUI enforcement patrol and taking another dangerous DUI driver off the streets to keep our citizens safe during the holiday season,” he said.
Lujan was scheduled to appear for arraignment Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
BALDWIN PARK >> A suicidal man perched on the newly-completed transition road bridge between the 605 and 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park Sunday afternoon, shutting down traffic as authorities worked to reason with him, officials said.
The incident began shortly before 4 p.m. on the elevated transition road connecting the southbound 605 Freeway to the eastbound 10 Freeway, according to California Highway Patrol blogs.
Firefighters set up an air cushion beneath the bridge and summoned crisis negotiators to the scene, officials said.
Authorities ultimately managed to take the distraught man into custody just before 5 p.m., CHP Officer Tony Bishop said.
Officials were preparing to reopen affected traffic lanes.
GLENDORA >> Police arrested a woman and a teenage boy after finding them with stolen SUV in a Glendora neighborhood Friday afternoon, officials said.
Sureilyn Rodriguez, 20, and a teenage boy were arrested on suspicion of auto theft, Glendora police Lt. Scott Strong said.
A resident of the 1200 block of Swain Street called police about 5 p.m. to reports two suspicious people loitering near a Chevrolet Suburban, the lieutenant said.
The teenage boy ran as officers approached, but was quickly apprehended nearby, Strong said. Rodriguez remained with the stolen SUV and was arrested without a struggle.
Officers soon determined the Suburban had been reported stolen out of Baldwin Park, he said.
BALDWIN PARK >> Twelve people reported injuries when a tour bus collided with a street sweeper truck on the 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park Sunday morning, authorities said.
The crash took place about 10:50 a.m. on the eastbound 10 Freeway, just west of the 605 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Officer Alex Rubio said.
Eleven people from the bus were treated for minor to moderate injuries, as well as one person from the Caltrans street sweeper, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
A 31-year-old San Gabriel man was driving a 2014 tour bus in the carpool lane with about 54 passengers on board when the crash occurred, according to the CHP.
A 2002 Volvo street sweeping truck was traveling slowly in the carpool lane in front of the bus as part of a lane re-striping crew, Officer D. Parsons of the CHP’s East Los Angeles area office said in a written statement.
“Due to (the bus driver) driving his Van Hool tour bus at an unsafe speed for the moving lane closure, the right front of the Van Hool tour bus collided with the left rear of the Caltrans Volvo truck,” according to Parsons.
The front portion of the bus was left crumpled by the collision.
Multiple Caltrans and CHP vehicles were involved in the slow-rolling closure, and warning signs and lights warned drivers of the work zone, Parsons said.
The carpool and fast lanes of the eastbound 10 Freeway remained shut until about 2:30 p.m.
PHOTO – Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department
EL MONTE >> Police arrested an allegedly drunken driver early Sunday after he led police on a chase from Baldwin Park to El Monte with his wife and children in his pickup truck, ultimately crashing and seriously injuring two family members, authorities said.
Saul Capetillo, a 27-year-old parolee from Los Angeles, is accused of drunken driving, evading police, child endangerment and hit-and-run following the pursuit, which began about 1:34 a.m., Baldwin Park police Sgt. Shawn Blackburn said.
Capetillo’s wife and 6-year-old daughter were critically injured in the crash, the sergeant said. The young girl was thrown from the wreckage. No one inside the truck was wearing a seat-belt.
He and his 9-year-old son remained hospitalized Sunday afternoon with injured not believed to be life-threatening, Blackburn said.
The chase began when an officer tried to stop Capetillo’s Chevrolet pickup truck for driving recklessly in 13300 block of Ramona Boulevard, the sergeant said. The truck quickly made a U-turn and sped away.
The truck crashed into another car at Ramona Boulevard and Francisquito Avenue before continuing on into El Monte, Blackburn said. The woman at the wheel of the car suffered apparently minor injuries.
Police continued chasing the pickup truck as it crashed into about six parked cars at Gillman Road near Kerrwood Place, officials said.
“It went airborne and flipped,” Blackburn said, throwing the young girl from the wreckage and brining the pursuit to an end.
Capetillo, who is already on parole following a previous felony conviction, was yet to be booked Sunday afternoon as he remained hospitalized.