UPDATED: West Covina police arrest man and woman following bizarre pursuit, crash in Bassett


WEST COVINA >> In a strange seemingly illogical series chain of events, a man and woman called police on themselves to falsely report a carjacking Friday before leading West Covina police on a chase that ended with a crash in Bassett that injured two bystanders, including a little girl, authorities said.
Britanny Benquenchea, 26, and Joshua Rodriguez, 27, both of Victorville, were accused of crimes including evading police and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the bizarre episode, which began just after 7 p.m. at the Plaza West Covina shopping mall, West Covina police Lt. Travis Tibbetts said. Both are on parole for robbery, and Benquenchea wears a GPS tracking device.
Police first responded to the mall, 112 Plaza Drive, after a woman called 911 to report she had been carjacked of her 2015 Toyota Corolla at gunpoint by a man and woman, the lieutenant said.
Responding officers spotted a car matching the description of the stolen Toyota, containing a man and woman matching the description of the carjackers, driving just south of the mall.
Benquenchea, who was driving, refused to pull over for police, initiating a high-speed chase.
The pursuit ended minutes later when the fleeing car struck a civilian vehicle at Amar Road and Willow Avenue, Tibbetts said.
Both suspects were detained at the scene, he said. Police used a K-9 to help apprehend the male suspect, who refused to comply with officers’ commands.
An 8-year-old girl who was riding in the car struck by the fleeing suspects was initially hospitalized in critical condition, but was expected to survive, Tibbetts said. A woman in the vehicle, described only as an adult, was also hospitalized. Neither victims injuries were believed to be life threatening.
The investigation then took an unexpected turn.
Officers determined Benquenchea herself had called the police to falsely report being carjacked, Tibbetts said.
After being involved in a fight and getting escorted from the mall by security guards, Benquenchea and Rodriguez became involved in a confrontation with security before speeding away from the mall, police said.
The suspects may have struck a parked car as they left, he said. The details of the incident at the mall remained unclear late Friday.
“Apparently, they decided to call and report a carjacking, describing themselves as the suspects,” Tibbetts said.
The call appeared to be some sort of ill-thought-out ruse to divert police attention from the mall incident, he said. Although Benquenchea gave descriptions matching herself and Rodriguez as that of the phony carjackers, she reported the purported carjackers had fled in the opposite direction.
Benquenchea gave her real first name while reporting the carjacking, Tibbetts added. And when police called back the number, Benquenchea’s phone rang through the Toyota’s wireless audio system.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Tibbetts said.
Witness Christopher Morales posted footage of the male suspect being taken into custody with the help of a police K-9 on the social media network.
Another witness, April Aguirre, posted video of the aftermath of the collision in which firefighters can be seen treating an injured patient on Twitter.
The female suspect appeared to be wearing a GPS ankle bracelet, she said. “When they brought her out she seemed like she was on drugs,” the witness added.
In an email, Aguirre said she did not see the crash itself, as she arrived afterward.
“When I got there they had a male on a gurney taking him away. Then a couple minutes later they had a female in the video in handcuffs & she could barely walk or she was resisting it seemed like,” she said.
The woman yelled out, “Please don’t leave me,” and other phrases as firefighters treated her injuries, Aguirre said.
Both suspects were hospitalized prior to booking, Tibbetts said.

VIDEO: Courtesy of Christopher Morales

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UPDATED: Man wounded in 2nd shooting in less than a day in Bassett


BASSETT >> Gunfire in a Bassett neighborhood left one man wounded and a car riddled with bullets late Saturday in the community’s second shooting in less than 24 hours, authorities said.
Details of the shooting remained unclear Sunday as detectives continued sorting through conflicting accounts of the incident, which unfolded about 11:20 p.m. in the area of Nelson and Milbury avenues in the unincorporated county area, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Arthur Scott said.
Deputies were summoned to Kaiser Permanente’s Baldwin Park Medical Center after a man in his late-teens to early-20s showed up at the emergency room with gunshot wounds to his upper torso, the lieutenant said.
The victim, a documented Bassett Grande gang member, told deputies he was walking past a house party on Nelson Avenue when a group of others started arguing and gunshots rang out, Scott said.
Scott described the home where the party was taking place at a known gang hangout.
But a woman who identified herself as a resident disputed the assertion, saying that the home was not tied to gangs.
About the same time, deputies responded to another report of gunfire just around the corner, at Milbury Avenue and Flagstaff Street, Scott said.
Three young men from Baldwin Park told officials they were heading north on Milbury Avenue in a car when they were confronted by attackers in an Orange Honda, Scott said. The passenger then exited the Honda and opened fire on the victim’s car.
Bullets shattered the front and rear windshields, and one pierced a headrest inside the car, but none of the three occupants were injured, Scott said.
Investigators suspected the two incidents were related. The investigation was ongoing.
The gunfire took place less than 24 hours after a 1:45 a.m. shooting about a mile away, in the 900 block of Feather Avenue, Lt. David Indante said. A car was damaged, but injuries were reported.

— Story updated to include comment from resident disputing officials’ assertion that the home near where the Nelson Avenue shooting is tied to gang activity.

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Car struck by gunfire in Bassett shooting


BASSETT >> A bullet pierced a parked car in a residential neighborhood in Bassett early Saturday, but no injuries were reported, officials said.
Deputies patrolling in the area heard gunshots ring out about 1:45 a.m. from the 900 block of Feather Avenue, in the unincorporated county area of Bassett, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. David Infante said.
They rushed to the scene to find a parked car that had been struck by a single bullet, but no victims or witnesses of the shooting, the lieutenant said.
The owner of the car told deputies he did not know what had occurred, and the motive in the shooting was unclear.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322.

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UPDATED: Man killed, woman wounded in gunfight outside Bassett restaurant

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BASSETT >> Sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating a gun battle outside a Bassett restaurant that left a man dead and a woman wounded Tuesday, authorities said.
Dominick Gonzales, 38, of Palmdale died at the scene of the shooting, Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner Coroner said.
Lt. Joe Mendoza of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Gonzalez also had a home address listed in Pacoima.
The shooting took place just after 9 p.m. in the 13100 block of Valley Boulevard, in the unincorporated county area, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Deputies responding to a report of a shooting encountered a man wounded in the upper torso, and a woman who had been shot in her lower body, Deputy Trina Schrader of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
“The male adult was pronounced dead at the scene,” Schrader said. “The female adult was transported to a local hospital to be treated for her injuries.”
An update on the wounded woman’s condition was not available.
The victims were eating near a taco truck parked in front of the El Jalisco Cafe when the gunfire erupted, officials said.
“During the investigation, detectives learned there was a gunfight between at least two individuals at the location,” Schrader said.
The wounded woman appeared to have been an innocent bystander who got caught up in the crossfire, Lt. Joe Mendoza of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
It was not clear Wednesday whether Gonzales the shooting was also a bystander, or an intended target of the gunfire.
The motive in the shooting remained under investigation, and no suspect descriptions were available.
Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500.
Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO by Keith Durflinger

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Homeless man convicted of Bassett hammer murder

BASSETT >> A homeless man received a sentence of 15 years to life in prison Thursday after pleading “no contest” to fatally beating another homeless man with a hammer following a dispute over a sleeping spot near a dumpster in La Puente, authorities said.
Marco Antonio Villanueva, 37, admitted to second-degree murder for the fatal beating of 56-year-old Ruben Zermeno, who was found “stomped on and beaten” June 18, 2014, in the 13900 block of Valley Boulevard, in the unincorporated county area of Bassett, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
In addition to a dispute over a sleeping spot, Villanueva told investigators that “God told him” to kill Zermeno, Lt. Steve Jauch of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said shortly after the arrest.
Deputies had already arrested Villanueva after he was found sleeping on someone’s porch in Hacienda Heights nearly three hours before Zermeno’s body was found by a passer-by, and Villanueva was linked to the killing.
“When Villanueva was taken into custody, he admitted to investigators that he got mad at the victim for taking his spot near the dumpster and as a result, struck Zermeno with a hammer,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
If he had been convicted of first-degree murder, Villanueva could have faced 25 years to life in prison.

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UPDATED: Three wounded in Bassett drive-by shooting


BASSETT >> A drive-by shooting in residential neighborhood in Bassett late Thursday left two men and a woman wounded, officials said.
Deputies sought three suspects in connection with the 7:30 p.m. shooting in the 13600 block of Moccasin Street, in the unincorporated county area, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Tubbs said.
The victims, a man in his 20s, a woman in her 20s and a man in his 30s, were all hospitalized with stable vital signs, the lieutenant said.
Three men were inside a passing older-model, black, four-door Nissan Maxima with tinted windows when one of the occupants opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun fitted with a laser sight, officials said.
Initial reports from the scene indicated the shooter was a Latino man of about 30 years old, wearing a black mask and a black shirt.
Tubbs said the victims were standing in front of a home when shot, Tubbs said.
The investigation remained in its early stages Thursday night, however the shooting appeared to be gang-related, Tubbs said.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: Massive fire at Bassett cosmetics plant sparked by nail polish fumes

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BASSETT >> Fumes from mixing nail polish are blamed for a massive fire that caused nearly $3 million worth of damage to a Bassett cosmetics manufacturing plant Friday, forcing the closure of the factory and left the jobs of more than 30 workers in question, at least for the next several months.
The massive fire burned for more than three hours Friday after erupting shortly after 5 p.m. at LASplash Cosmetics, 13324 E. Valley Boulevard, in the unincorporated county area.
“The cause was ignition from an electric drill while mixing nail polish,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Melanie Flores said.
Officials estimated the fire caused $1.9 million worth of damage to the building, and 0615_NWS_SGT-L-FIREFOLO1another $1 million in damage to the building’s contents, Flores said.
Workers busily cleared debris and salvaged what they could Sunday afternoon.
In a statement on the company’s Instagram account Saturday, LASplash representatives announced the company has had to shut down.
“We had an unfortunate accident yesterday. Our factory was burnt down. We are thankful that all employees got out safe,” the statement said. “We have to temporarily shut down our operation. Please allow us some time to reorganize. We will be back up and running as soon as we can.”
A company officials at the gutted business Sunday who did not wish to be identified said the LASplash Cosmetics employes between 30 and 50 workers, depending on season.
0615_NWS_SGT-L-FIREFOLO5The business hoped to reopen at a different location within two to three months, he said, adding that much of the irreplaceable items, such as data stored on computer hard drives, appeared to have been spared by the flames. A meeting between company officials and employees to discuss plans for the immediate future was planned Monday.
The company promised to post additional updates when more information is available.
The Instagram message also addressed customers who have placed recent orders.
“For those of you who placed your orders (Friday), we will check the status of all the orders shortly. As soon as our first computer can be up and running, we will be sending notifications out.”
More than 750 people had left comments of support on LaSplash Cosemetic’s 0615_NWS_SGT-L-FIREFOLO6social media post by Sunday afternoon.
The fire sent flames and a thick, black plume of smoke high into the air above Valley Boulevard, and caused traffic to back up throughout the area.
One civilian suffered injuries described as first- and second-degree burns to his legs in the blaze, Flores said. He declined to be hospitalized by ambulance, electing instead to seek treatment on his own.
As is standard procedure with respect to workplace mishaps, the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health was expected to investigate, officials said.

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Fire tears through Bassett cosmetics manufacturing plant



BASSETT >> A massive fire ripped through a cosmetics manufacturing plant in Bassett on Friday sending flames and a thick plume of black smoke high above the San Gabriel Valley before firefighters got the upper hand, officials said.
The fire, which burned for more than three hours. was first reported about 5:10 p.m. at the two-story, 15,000- to 20,000-square-foot commercial building at Valley Boulevard and Collwood Avenue in the unincorporated county area near Industry, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Randall Wright said.
One civilian suffered burns in the fire, but was treated at the scene and did not wish to be taken to a hospital, fire Dispatch Supervisor Michael Pittman said. No firefighters were hurt.
Upon firefighters’ arrival, “We had fire through the roof,” Wright said.
“We started an aggressive interior fire attack,” he said. But concerns over possible volatile chemicals and propane tanks stored on-site slowed fire fighting efforts, officials added.
Early in the fire, “They did hear large explosions,” Wright said. The source of the explosions had not been determined.
CHWCjQ1UYAENyPCFirefighters pulled back and took a “defensive” posture against the fire, drowning it with water from above with the use of aerial ladders, Wright said. A second-alarm was declared, bringing about 55 firefighters to the scene.
Officials declared the fire extinguished at 8:23 p.m., Pittman said. Firefighters were expected to remain on-scene “mopping up” well into the night as a cause investigator examined the scene for clues as to have the fire ignited.
Melissa Valdivia, 15, of Bassett, said she was walking to the store when she saw the massive smoke plume and decided to take a look.
She said she spotted flames towering about 50 feet above the building, and thick smoke created an opaque wall along Valley Boulevard.
Even from the spot she was standing 100 or so yards away, “You could feel the heat,” she said.
Officials worked to gauge and mitigate any potentially dangerous fumed emanating from the fire, Wright said. People were kept upwind of the fire, and nine residents of nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution. No issues related to fumes were reported.
Authorities shut down Valley Boulevard between the 605 Freeway and Workman Mill Road during the incident, as well as side streets running along it. Traffic backed up heavily throughout the area.

PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department

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Shooting reported in Bassett


BASSETT >> Two victims suffered cuts from flying glass but escaped serious injury when a gunman in a car opened fire on them with a rifle early Sunday, officials said.
The shooting took place about 2:30 a.m. at Orange Blossom Avenue and Valley Boulevard in the unincorporated county area of Bassett, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. James Beamon said. It appeared the victims were in a vehicle when they were shot based on their injuries, however details regarding the circumstances of the attack were not available Sunday.
A gunman inside a newer-model, dark-blue, two-door Scion opened fire on the two victims with a rifle, Beamon said. But none of the bullets struck the victims, described only as male.
The motive was unclear, he said. The victims were not believed to be gang members.

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Family seeks Shih Tzu puppy, named Bandit, stolen in Avocado Heights burglary

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AVOCADO HEIGHTS >> After a burglary this week at their, there’s just one stolen item an Avocado Heights family is desperate to have returned: their 7-year-old daughter’s teacup Shih Tzu puppy.
The 12-week-old male puppy, coincidentally named Bandit, was stolen Thursday during a break-in at the Rangel family’s home in the 600 block of Reburn Avenue, in the unincorporated county area of Avocado Heights, homeowner Roman Rangel said. The burglary took place sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
While the burglar or burglars made off with various items from the home, including jewelry and cash, ““We don’t care as much about the and stuff as we do about the dog,” Rangel said.
“It just blew my mind,” he added. “Really? Take the dog?”
Sgt. Rico Sandoval of the sheriff’s Industry Station confirmed deputies responded the home Thursday and took a residential burglary report. The investigation was ongoing, he said, and no suspects were in custody.
The intruders broke into the home through a bathroom window, Rangel said.
0329_NWS_SGT-L-DOGTHEFT2The dog belonged to Rangel’s 7-year-old daughter, Mariah, he said. “It was a reward for doing well in school.”
The family adopted Bandit four or five weeks ago, Rangel said. “In just a few weeks, we grew really attached to it.”
Rangel asked that anyone who sees Bandit contact the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322.
“We’d just really like to get the dog back,” he said. “No questions asked.”

PHOTOS of teacup S

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