Officials: Bassett woman was strangled; death now investigated as homicide


BASSETT >> The death of a 24-year-old Bassett woman discovered unresponsive in her bed over the weekend is now being investigated as a homicide after it was determined the woman was strangled in the middle of the night as her parent slept in the same house, sheriff’s officials said Friday.
Kassandra Maricel Sandoval was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday after her mother discovered her not breathing at her home in the 13200 block of Gyna Lane in the unincorporated county area and called 911, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
No obvious signs of trauma were visible on Sandoval’s body and her cause of death was not initially clear, Deputy Crystal Hernandez of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said at the time.
In the days since, “It was determined that the victim’s cause of death was asphyxiation,” Deputy Grace Medrano of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement. “The case was ruled a homicide.”
“Homicide investigators are continuing their investigation to seek for the person (or persons) responsible for the death of Kassandra Sandoval,” Medrano said.
Lt. John Corina of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said the circumstances surrounding Sandoval’s slaying remained largely a mystery.
Her car was missing from her home when her body was discovered, but soon recovered less than a mile from the home, parked along Workman Mill Road, Corina said.
Her parents last saw her the day before, when she went out for the evening, the lieutenant said. It was not yet clear whether she returned home alone or was accompanied by someone.
At some point during the night, an unknown attacker strangled Sandoval and escaped from the home, undetected by Sandoval’s parents, who were asleep under the same roof.
There were no signs of forced entry to the house, Corina said.
“Somebody did come in the house. Something ended up occurring. That’s what we’re trying to piece together,” he said.
Salvador was unmarried and was not believed to be involved in a committed romantic relationship at the time of her death, Corina said.
“We’re not sure what the motive is here,” he said.
Sandoval’s official cause of death remained listed as “deferred” and remained under investigation at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner pending the result of toxicology tests, coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. But case notes described the death as a likely homicide, and Corina said the evidence already available made it clear that Salvador was the victim of a homicide.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Detectives investigate death of woman in Bassett


BASSETT >> Homicide detectives are investigating the death of a woman under unknown circumstances whose body was discovered Sunday morning in a residential neighborhood in Bassett, authorities said.
The woman was found unresponsive and apparently not breathing at 8:52 a.m. at a home in the 13200 block of East Gyna Lane, in the unincorporated county area just west of the 605 Freeway, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. It was not initially clear who made the discovery.
The woman, whose age was not available, was pronounced dead at the scene, sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
There was no obvious cause of death, officials said. No further details were available as detectives from the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau continued their investigation Sunday afternoon.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Car-to-car shootout reported in Bassett


BASSETT >> Deputies found no suspects or victims after the occupants of two vehicle engaged in a rolling gun battle in Bassett Saturday afternoon.
The shoot-out was reported just after 1:20 p.m. at 3rd and Proctor avenues in the unincorporated county area, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Rico Sandoval said.
Witnesses reported seeing a light-colored sedan and a dark-colored SUV trading gunfire, he said.
No one was found wounded at the scene and no gunshot victims connected to the shooting had turned up at any local hospitals Saturday afternoon, the sergeant 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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Mother and daughter killed in 605 Freeway crash, 2 girls critically injured

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BASSETT >> A woman and a young girl believed to be her daughter died and two more girls suffered critical injuries in a solo-car crash alongside the 605 Freeway in Bassett in early Friday, authorities said.
The fatal crash took place about 7:30 a.m. on the southbound 605 Freeway, just north of the 60 Freeway, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Rich Licon said.
The identities of the victims had yet to be determined, according to Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. Their city of residence was unclear.
Though not identified, a photograph found at the scene indicated that the four victims were a mother and her three children, California Highway Patrol Officer Gina Jojola said.
The 2005 Pontiac Grand Am was heading south when it veered off the side of the road, overturned and struck a tree, she said.
“As a result of the collision, the driver and right rear passenger sustained fatal injuries and were pronounced deceased,” CHP Officer D. Jones said in a written statement. “The two remaining passengers were transported to Los Angeles County Medical Center in critical condition.”
Cn_dT3pXgAE6lWYFirefighters had to free the two surviving girls from the wreckage.
“We had to extricate two people,” Licon said.
All four occupants of the Pontiac wore seat belts, according to the CHP.
The woman at the wheel of the Pontiac appeared to be about 30 years old, Jojola said. The girl who died in the crash was estimated to be 7 years old.
The two surviving girls were about 3 and 11 yeas old, Jojola said. They were taken to a trauma center for treatment. An update on their conditions was not available Friday afternoon.
While the investigation remained in its early stages, drugs or alcohol were not initially suspected as factors, Jones said.
“No witnesses have been found,” Jojola said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the CHP’s East Los Angeles area office at 323-980-4600.
Officials issued a Sig Alert for the right-hand lane of the southbound 605 Freeway for nearly four hours as they investigated the scene.

  • By Brian Day and Ruby Gonzales

PHOTOS by Walt Mancini

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UPDATED: Masked gunmen rob Bassett cabinet warehouse


BASSETT >> Two gunman escaped with thousands of dollars following a takeover robbery at a Bassett cabinetry business Friday, authorities said.
The crime took place about 2:40 p.m. at the FX Cabinet Warehouse, 14242 Proctor Ave. in the unincorporated county area of Bassett, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Two robbers, both wearing ski masks and armed with handguns, fled with more than $5,000 in cash following the robbery, Lt. Robert Tubbs said. Both wore masks and dark hooded sweatshirts, officials added.
After storming into the business, which was open, and stealing nearly $6,000, the two robbers sped away in a green sedan, Tubbs said.
The getaway car was soon found abandoned just west of the crime scene.
No injuries were reported in connection with the heist.
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: 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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