Elderly woman killed in ‘suspicious’ Covina fire identified


COVINA >> Authorities Wednesday released the identity of an elderly woman who died Friday in a fire at her home labeled “suspicious” by homicide detectives.
Helen Lambert, 89, died at the scene of the fire, which ignited about 2 p.m. at the home she shared with her grandson in the 20900 block of Mesarica Road, in an unincorporated county area near Covina, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials.
Her charred remains were discovered by firefighters as they extinguished the blaze, which was primarily isolated to a bedroom toward the rear of the home.
An officials cause of death was yet to be determined by coroner’s investigators, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. An autopsy has been completed, however, the cause of death has been deferred pending additional investigation.
Sheriff’s officials initially said arson was suspected in the fatal fire.
Lt. Steve Jauch of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau later described the fire as “suspicious” in nature, but declined to discuss what about the fire caught the attention of investigators. No arrests have been made.
The grandson, described by a friend as 18 years old, was not injured in the fire.
A friend of the grandson, 22-year-old Gabriel Garcia of Glendora, said he had just arrived to visit the grandson when his friend told him the house was on fire, and his grandmother was inside, Garcia said.
The two young men smashed a window or glass for at the rear of the home, but were unable to enter due to the extreme heat and thick smoke, Garcia said.
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.

— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.

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Stolen car, drugs, gun recovered from gang members in Covina

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COVINA >> Police jailed three gang members late Friday after finding them driving through Covina in stolen car, with two ounces of methamphetamine and a loaded handgun, officials said.
Officers were on a special patrol due to increased crime in the area when they spotted a suspicious car with no license plates driving in the 1000 block of West Cypress Street, Covina city officials said in a written statement.
The officers pulled over the car, which contained driver Ricardo Castillo, 35, of Baldwin Park, as well as passengers Mary Magalena Leos, 26, of Baldwin Park and Marco Antonio Villaneda, 35, of West Covina, according to city officials and Los Angeles County booking records. All three are documented gang members.
0410_NWS_SGT-L-GANG2Police soon found the car had been reported stolen in Las Vegas, and noticed a bullet hole in the driver-side door, officials said. Castillo admitted the car had been shot in Baldwin Park last week.
Police found Villaneda in possession of two ounces of methamphetamine, and Leos had property not belonging to her.
“A loaded hand gun was also located concealed in the engine compartment of the vehicle,” according to the statement.
Castillo was booked on suspicion of auto theft, being a felon in possession of a gun and driving on a suspended license. Villaneda was booked on suspicion of auto theft, possession of a controlled substance for sales and being a felon in possession of a loaded firearm. Leos was booked for misappropriation of found property and two outstanding warrants.
According to county booking records, Castillo and Villaneda had both been released from jail Saturday afternoon pending their initial court appearances after posting $25,000 and $30,000 bail, respectively. Leos was being held without bail.

PHOTOS:
[TOP] Ricardo Castillo, 35, of Baldinn Park, Marco Villaneda, 35, of West Covina and Mary Leos, 26, of Baldwin Park.
[BELOW] Police recovered stolen car, two ounces of methamphetamine and a loaded handgun after pulling over a car containing three gang members in the 1000 block of West Cypress Street in Covina on Friday, April 8, 2016. (Courtesy)

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UPDATED: Arson suspected in fatal Covina house fire


COVINA >> A woman died in a possible arson fire in an unincorporated county area just outside of Covina Friday afternoon, officials said.
The fire was first reported at 2:01 p.m. at a house in the 20900 block of Mesarica Road, Los Angeles County Fire Department Firefighter Humberto Agurcia said.
“The first units arrived at 2:07 p.m. and reported a single-family dwelling with smoke showing from the rear,” he said. The fire was extinguished 15 minutes later.
Sheriff’s officials said firefighters entered the house, put out the fire and discovered the charred remains of an adult in a bedroom. The person was pronounced dead at the scene.
FATALFIREOfficials initially described the victim as a woman,said the person’s gender, ethnicity and age were yet to be determined
The deadly fire was being investigated as an arson, Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said. But officials released no information regarding why He didn’t say why arson was suspected.
The fire primarily involved a bedroom toward the rear of the house where the remains of the victim were found.
Neighbor Steve Campanella said an elderly woman lives at the home with her grandson.
He said he didn’t know his elderly neighbor well, but would sometimes see her in her front yard. The woman and her grandson moved to the neighborhood about eight years ago, neighbors said.
Gabriel Garcia, 22, of Glendora, a friend of the 18-year-old man who lives at the home with his grandmother, said he arrived to visit the grandson as the fire was starting.
AR-160409577The fire was not visible from the street, he said. The grandson told Garcia the house was on fire and his grandmother was inside, Garcia said.
“We went through the back. We tried breaking in,” Garcia said. “We eventually broke (a glass door), but we couldn’t go in. It was so hot.”
Garcia said he wanted to help. He said he saw no flames, only thick smoke.
“There was so much smoke, I could barely see the bed,” he said.
Garcia said the grandson arrived shortly before him.
Both fire-cause investigators and sheriff’s homicide detectives were summoned to the scene.
Investigators continued combing over the scene for evidence Friday night.
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.

PHOTO by Watchara Phomicinda

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Teen accused of graffiti vandalism in front of Covina police station


COVINA >> Police arrested a West Covina teen Wednesday hours after he scrawled graffiti on a flagpole and newly installed parking meter dispenser outside the Covina Police Department, officials said.
The teen had gone to the Covina Police Department, 444 N. Citrus Ave., for unrelated business about 9 a.m. and decided to scrawl graffiti with a marker on the flagpole and parking machine as he left, Covina police Lt. Ric Walczak said.
After noticing the damage, police reviewed station surveillance cameras, which had captured the crime on video, he said.
Investigators identified the teen and arrested him about 9 p.m. Wednesday, the lieutenant said.
He was cited for vandalism and released to his parents pending his initial court appearance.

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Sex offender accused of trying to lure girl into bathroom at Covina park

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COVINA >> Police jailed an out-of-compliance sex offender after he tried to lure a 4-year-old girl into the men’s bathroom at a Covina park Friday, authorities said.
Matthew James Smith, a 49-year-old transient, was booked on suspicion of child annoyance and failing to register as a sex offender following his arrest shortly after 11 a.m. at Covina City Park, 301 N. Fourth Ave., Covina police Sgt. gregg Peterson said in a written statement.
Police responded to the park after receiving a report, “that an adult male had attempted to lure a 4-year-old female
into the men’s public restroom at the park,” Peterson said.
The child’s mother prevented her daughter from going with the man, he said. She did not confront him directly, but kept an eye on him as she called police and explained what had happened.
Officers found Smith still in the park and detained him.
“Initially  the suspect  denied  having  any  contact  with  the  victim, however, he was positively identified and placed under citizen’s arrest for child annoyance,” the sergeant said.
Police soon also discovered that Smith was a registered sex offender who had failed to register, he said.
Further details regarding Smith’s prior criminal history were not available late Friday.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Covina police detectives at 626-384-5628. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Covina doctor agrees to plead guilty to federal drug distribution, money laundering charges

LOS ANGELES >> A Covina doctor accused of prescribing a powerful painkiller to an undercover investigator, then laundering the proceeds, agreed to plead guilty Thursday to two federal charges, officials said.
Dr. Daniel Cham, 48, of Covina — who operated medical offices in La Puente and Artesia — agreed to enter guilty pleas to one count of distribution of oxycodone and one count of money laundering, US Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
“Painkillers like oxycodone can be life-threatening to those who abuse them,” US Attorney Eileen M. Decker said. “Many of the prescription drugs that find their way to the street come from doctors who prescribe them without medical justification. This defendant put lives at risk for money, making him no different than street-level drug dealer.”
Cham admitted that he wrote prescriptions for oxycodone for an undercover agent at his La Puente office three times in 2014, Mrozek said.
Each time, he accepted $200 to $300 in money orders in exchange, officials said. On at least one occasion, Cham then deposited the funds into a bank account in the name of another business.
The deposits were made in order to “conceal and disguise the nature and source of the money order,” according to the plea agreement.
Cham wrote prescriptions for oxycodone for an undercover agent at his La Puente office three times in 2014, Mrozek said. Each time, he accepted $200 to $300 in money orders in exchange.
“As discussed in the affidavit, Cham issued a prescription for oxycodone even though the undercover operative said he ‘had been high and drunk while receiving controlled substance prescriptions’ previously from Cham.” Mrozek said. “On another occasion, Cham prescribed oxycodone even though the undercover law enforcement officer presented, in lieu of photo identification, a written notice that his license had been suspended for driving under the influence.”
Cham often saw patients between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. on weekends, but post-dated prescriptions to they would appear to have been issued on weekdays, officials said.
The doctor wrote more than 5,500 prescriptions for powerful drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone over a one-year period ending in March of 2014, Mrozek said. “And he issued more than 42,000 such prescriptions since July 2010.”
Cham is expected to formally enter his guilty plea April 4 in federal court in Los Angeles.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the two felony counts he had admitted to, according to Mrozek. He also agreed to forfeit more than $60,000 in admitted proceeds from his crimes.
A federal grand jury returned a 31-count indictment against Cham in October of 2014. If convicted as originally charged, he could have faced more than 300 years in federal prison.

Dr. Daniel Cham Plea Agreement

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Covina’s top cop receives award from fellow California police chiefs

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COVINA >> Covina Police Chief Kim Raney received the California Police Chief’s Associations most prestigious award Wednesday.
The CPCA presented Raney with the Joe Molloy Award, “ for his dedication and service to law enforcement and to the California Police Chiefs Association,” CPCA officials said in a written statement. “This award embodies the characteristics represented by the late Chief Joe Molloy of Anaheim; professionalism, leadership, energy, and commitment to the mission of the Association.”
Raney received the honor from CPCA President and Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano during the Installation Banquet during the CPCA’s 39th Annual Training Symposium in Ontario.
“Chief Raney has tirelessly served the association in several capacities, including as a past president. He also emerged as a leader in the fight against the legalization of marijuana in 2010 and also championed the effort to draft legislation to regulate medical marijuana,” Bejarano said.
“Kim Raney’s record of commitment and contribution on a statewide level and to the association is greatly appreciated. He is highly respected within the law enforcement community. I was honored to present Chief Raney with the award for the work he has done for Cal Chiefs, for law enforcement, and for public safety.”
Raney served as president of the CPCA in 2008.
The CPCA is comprised of municipal police chiefs from throughout the state, with jurisdictions protecting more than 26 million Californians.

PHOTO: Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, left, received the Joe Mollow Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed by the California Police Chiefs Association, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Courtesy, Covina Police Department)

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Two arrested following West Covina police chase

COVINA >> Police jailed two alleged car thieves after a short pursuit that ended in Covina Sunday after the victims of an auto theft spotted their recently-stolen SUV driving through West Covina, officials said.
A man and wife called police about 12:45 p.m. to report that they’d just seen their 2007 Honda Element SUV, which has been stolen the previous day, being driven down Citrus Avenue near the 10 Freeway in West Covina, West Covina police Lt. Dave Lee said. A man was at the wheel, and a woman was riding as a passenger.
Police tried to pull over the stolen Honda, but the driver sped away, blowing through red lights and stop signs, Lee said.
The car slowed in the 2000 block of Puente Avenue, where both suspect jumped from the still-moving car, which continued rolling until it struck a mailbox, the lieutenant said.
The female passenger broke her ankle as she hopped from the still-rolling car and was immediately captured, Lee said. She was estimated to be about 30.
The driver, a man in his mid-20s, was found hiding in a residential garage and arrested with the help of a police dog following an hour-long neighborhood search, he said.
Both suspects were taken to a hospital for treatment, Lee said. Their identities were not available Sunday afternoon.
They were expected to be booked on suspicion of auto theft and resisting arrest, Lee said. The driver was also expected to be booked for evading police.

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Storefront marijuana shop raided in Covina

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COVINA >> Police raided a an illicit marijuana shop selling marijuana and pot-laced candy out of a Covina storefront Thursday, officials said.
A tip from the public first brought the attention of police to the commercial unit in the 400 block of West Badillo Street, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
The Covina police Special Enforcement Bureau launched an investigation and began staking out the business, Peterson said.
0304_NWS_SGT-L-MARYJANE3“They surveilled the location and determined that the location was possibly involved in the sales of marijuana,” the sergeant said.
Police went in to the business about noon to speak with the owner and immediately saw evidence of marijuana sales, he said.
The business owner, 40-year-old Juan Francisco Pacheco of Covina, was detained as police obtained a search warrant for the unit, Peterson said.
Police recovered a significant amount of marijuana, cash and marijuana-laced candy, some of which was still in the process of being manufactured, he said. A tally of the amount of drugs and money seized was not available late Thursday.
0304_NWS_SGT-L-MARYJANE4Police also seized a handgun from the business, Peterson said.
Pacheco was expected to be booked on suspicion of selling marijuana as well as possible weapon violations, however, the investigation was ongoing, Peterson said.
It was not immediately clear of the business was operating as a medical marijuana dispensary, though city law prohibits such businesses in Covina.
According to county booking records, Pacheco was released from jail Friday pending his initial court appearance after posting $25,000 bail.

PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department

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UPDATED: Sheriff’s patrol car involved in crash in Covina

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COVINA >> No significant injuries were reported after sheriff’s patrol car and a black sedan collided in a Covina intersection Sunday afternoon, officials said.
The collision took place about 1:50 p.m. at Covina Boulevard and Citrus Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Jorge Chavez said.
The deputy involved in the crash, who is assigned to the sheriff’s San Dimas Station, was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but she did not appear to have suffered any significant injuries, Covina police Sgt. Tom Tardif said. A man at the wheel of the other car — a Chevrolet Monte Carlo — was also hospitalized as a precaution, but appeared OK.
Tardif said witnesses relayed that the Monte Carlo drove through a red light as it headed south on Citrus Avenue, colliding with the patrol car, which was heading east on Covina Boulevard.
The deputy was not using of the patrol car’s emergency lights or siren when the crash occurred, Chavez added.
A photograph of the crash aftermath showed the patrol car with moderate front-end damage, and the black sedan with moderate damage to the passenger side.
No citations or arrests had been made as the investigation continued, Tardif said.

PHOTO courtesy of John Recendez

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