Cops cracking down on distracted driving in April

COVINA >> Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are cracking down on distracted driving during April, also known as National Distracted Driving Awareness month, authorities said.
Police, sheriff’s and California Highway Patrol officials will be working to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving through media interviews, school visits and traffic safety presentations, Covina police officials said in a written statement.
Officials on Wednesday took part in a statewide “high visibility enforcement” to issue citations to distracted drivers, officials said. Another such extra enforcement day will take place April 15.
“Driving takes one’s full attention and any distraction can have deadly, dangerous consequences,” Covina Police Chief Kim Raney said.
said. “Imagine driving for four or five seconds while blindfolded. That can be the effect of looking down to send a text message. In the average time it takes to check a text message — less than 5 seconds — a car travelling 60 mph will travel more than the length of a football field.”
In a new public education campaign called “Silence the Distraction,” officials are urging motorists to turn off their phones while driving to eliminate the distraction of reading or send a text messages.
In addition to National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the first week of April is designated “California Teen Safe Driving Week,” focusing on educating teens about the dangers of reckless and distracted driving, officials said.
“Each of us must drive responsibly, keeping full attention to the task at hand — driving. If you have teenagers in your family who are driving, make sure they understand the laws and what their responsibilities are as well,” Raney said. “The collective goal with this month-long campaign is to change the behavior of all drivers. That change begins with education.”

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Security guard accused of selling cocaine out of Covina nightclub

0329_SGT-L-COCAINE1COVINA >> Police arrested a security guard at a Downtown Covina restaurant and nightclub Friday night on charges of selling cocaine to undercover investigators at the business three times in recent months, authorities said.
Covina police and California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents arrested Christopher Rodriguez, 22, of Baldwin Park about 10:30 p.m. while he was working at the Red Lounge & Restaurant, 211 N. Citrus Avenue, according to Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Rodriguez is a contractor employed by Whittier-based Executive Sentry Services, police said.
Covina police assisted in making the arrest, which was the result of an undercover ABC investigation, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
“They started conducting surveillances in the location,” the sergeant said. “They were able to facilitate some purchases. They were able to do it on three separate occasions.”
Peterson described the amounts of cocaine sold each transaction as smaller, “personal use” amounts.
0329_SGT-L-COCAINE2Investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Rodriguez, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed three charges of drug sales against him, police said in a written statement.
“They believed this person was operating out of the business, and it wasn’t an isolated incident,” Peterson said.
It did not appear the establishment itself was linked to the alleged narcotics sales, he said.
“There’s no evidence showing that the club was associated with it whatsoever,” the sergeant said. “It appears (Rodriguez) was acting on his own behalf.”
Red owner Everett Ramos said he was shocked by the arrest of Rodriguez, one of 10 security guards contracted through Executive Sentry Services on any given business night. After about 10 ABC agents and police officers arrested Rodriguez, Ramos said they told him of the allegations.
Representatives of Sentry Executive Services could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Ramos said he saw no signs Rodriguez was up to illegal activity, and he appeared to be a good worker.
“I run a legitimate businesses,” Ramos said. “I’m always willing to do things to make it better.”
Though officials appeared friendly during their visit to Red late Friday, Ramos said he wished they could have made the arrest in a more discreet way.
“It didn’t look good,” he said.
In addition to the criminal investigation targeting Rodriguez, ABC officials planned to conduct an administrative investigation, and city officials will review the businesses’ permits, Peterson said.
Regarding the pending administrative reviews of his business, Ramos said, “I’m a little bit concerned, but I’ve done nothing wrong.”
According to county booking records, Rodriguez was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Monday in West Covina Superior Court.

PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department

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UPDATED: Covina woman and dogs fatally struck by car in San Dimas


SAN DIMAS >> A Covina woman and her two dogs died late Saturday after she was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light around the corner from her home in San Dimas, authorities said.
Violet Margaret Lopez-Prieto, 62, died at the scene of the 10:08 p.m. collision at the angled intersection of Badillo and Cypress streets, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corrall said.
“She was crossing the intersection when the (driver) failed to stop for a red light,” sheriff’s Sgt. Vicky Gregory said.
The woman and two dogs she was walking were struck by the vehicle, Gregory said.
Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene, Corrall said.
The driver of the car, described only as a man, remained at the scene and cooperated with deputies, sheriff’s Sgt. Louis Serrano Jr. said. There were no initial signs of intoxicated driving, and the driver was not arrested as the investigation continued.
Lopez-Prieto lived in a house about a quarter-mile from where she was struck, just across the city border in Covina.
Family members gathered at the home Sunday said they were not ready to comment as they continued absorbing the shock of Lopez-Prieto’s sudden death.
Public records indicated Lopez-Prieto had been an owner of the home since 1998, and the home had been owned by her family since at least 1992.
Only a discarded paramedic’s glove marked the scene of the fatal collision Sunday afternoon.
No further details regarding the circumstances of the collision were available.

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Covina man accused of accidentally shooting teenage friend

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COVINA >> Police arrested a 21-year-old Covina man Tuesday who accidentally shot a teenage friend in the arm earlier this month, officials said.
Marcos Santiago Contreras, 21, is accused of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting, which took place about 7 a.m. Feb. 14 in the 500 block of Rimsdale Avenue, according to Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Officers responded to a reports of a shooting when they found a 16-year-old boy walking in the area with a gunshot wound to his left arm, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
The teen did not cooperate with investigators and told police he was wounded in a drive-by shooting, Peterson said. But police concluded the boy’s story was false.
Detectives eventually determined the teen had been shot accidentally while riding in a car nearby, he said.
Contreras was driving with the teen as a passenger, the sergeant said. Contreras was showing off a handgun to the teen when the gun went off. The wounded boy exited the car, and Contreras drove off.
After determining what had taken place, Peterson said officers arrested Contreras shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday at his home in the 19000 block of East Arrow Highway.
During a search of the suspect’s home, police found a gun believed to have been involved in the shooting, Peterson said. Police also recovered a fired bullet from the door of Contreras’ car.
According to county booking records, Contreras was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Thursday in West Covina Superior Court.

PHOTO of Marcos Santiago courtesy of the Covina Police Department.

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ROP teacher at Gladstone High School in Covina accused of sex with student

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Police arrested a female Regional Occupational Program teacher Thursday on suspicion of having sex with a male Gladstone High School student, officials announced Friday afternoon.
East San Gabriel Valley ROP teacher Eddee Kovacs Kolos, 50, of Sierra Madre turned herself in to police about 4 p.m. Thursday, according to Sierra Madre police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
(Detectives) interviewed her. At the conclusion of their interview, they determined there was enough evidence for an arrest,” Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone said.
Police booked her on suspicion of having sexual intercourse with a minor, .
The allegation came to light about noon, when a 16-year-old Gladstone High School student reported the encounter to a school officials, the chief said.
Kolos posted $20,000 bail and was released from custody Thursday night, records show. She could not be reached for comment Friday.
Representatives of the East San Gabriel Valley ROP also could not be reached for comment after hours Friday.
Giannone said the alleged misconduct occurred within recent months, but declined to provide a specific time-frame.
It was unclear what subject Kolos taught through the ROP program.
Covina police initially investigated the allegation, but turned the case over to their counterparts in Sierra Madre after determining the alleged crime took place in that city.
Giannone declined to say exactly where the alleged molestation occurred.
“The cooperation of the Azusa Unified School District, the Covina Police Department, and the quick work of Sierra Madre Police Department detectives were instrumental in bringing this case to a quick conclusion and the arrest of the suspect within four hours of school authorities being notified,” Giannone said.
Upon learning of the alleged misconduct, the district immediately notified authorities, and also contacted ROP officials to have the teacher removed from campus and placed on administrative leave pending the investigation, Azusa Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Corey James said in a written statement.
“Azusa Unified takes very seriously any allegation about inappropriate relations between a student and teacher, regardless of whether they are an AUSD employee.  While this teacher was not a direct employee, AUSD holds this individual and all other guests on our campus to the same high standards to which we hold our own teachers,” James said.
“Our students’ safety is our first priority,” James said. “We are cooperating with law enforcement to facilitate a speedy resolution to this issue.  On behalf of our student, AUSD will call for immediate prosecution to the full extent of the law.  In the meantime, we are providing counseling for our student.”
Kolos was scheduled to appear for arraignment in Pasadena Superior Court on April 3, officials said.

PHOTO of Eddee Kolos, 50, of Sierra Madre, courtesy of the Sierra Madre Police Department

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Covina police jail La Puente man in alleged $100,000 employment scam

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COVINA >> Police jailed a La Puente man Thursday on suspicion of bilking about 30 victims out of an estimated $100,000 by posing as a utlity representative offering to help them get a job with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, officials said.
James Raymond Zulaica, 37, is accused of grand theft and identity theft for his alleged scam, which has been ongoing since July, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said in a written statement.
Calling himself, “Jimmy Rojas,” Zulaica has been falsely claiming to work for the LADWP, Peterson said. He told his victims that for a fee, he could help them get jobs at the utility.
“The fees he charged each individual victim ranged from $1,300 to $15,000. The total losses of all victims are estimated to be approximately $100,000.”
Police arrested Zulaica early Thursday while carrying out a search warrant at his La Puente home.
According to county booking records, Zulaica was being held in lieu of $45,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
Police are seeking additional victims of the alleged con, and asked anyone with information to contact Covina police detectives at 626-384-5615.

PHOTO of suspect James Zulaica courtesy of the Covina Police Department.

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UPDATED: Two stabbed in alleged hate crimes at Covina shopping center; suspect jailed

Booking

COVINA >> A La Puente resident and self-described El Monte gang member stabbed two Black men late Saturday at a Covina shopping center in unprovoked attacks which police are investigating as hate crimes, authorities said.
Louis Vasquez, 19, is accused of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, along with special allegations that the crime was a hate crime and gang-related, Covina police officials said.
Vasquez had just been released from jail Saturday morning after serving a sentence for an auto theft conviction, according to officials and county records.
Both victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the stabbings, which took place just after 7:40 p.m. at a shopping center at the northeast corner of Azusa Avenue and Badillo Street, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
The first attack occurred outside a Smart & Final store, where an 18-year-old employee was collecting shopping carts, Peterson said. He noticed Vasquez standing behind him before being attacked without warning.
“Out of nowhere, (Vasquez) just stabbed him,” Peterson said.
The teen, who suffered a stab wound to his shoulder, ran from his attacker, the sergeant said. Vasquez shouted insults, including racial slurs, as the victim fled, he added.
Immediately following the first stabbing, Vasquez headed to a neighboring CVS Pharmacy and attacked a 27-year-old man who was approaching the entrance.
The second victim did not see his assailant approach when he was stabbed from behind.
“He felt a pain in his right shoulder. He looked and saw the suspect holding the knife. The suspect stabbed him again,” Peterson said.
The wounded man tried to run into the store, but an automatic door wouldn’t open quickly enough for him to escape his pursuer, the sergeant said. The victim then ran along the front of the store, where he fell.
“(Vasquez) started slashing at him,” Peterson said. The attacker slashed the victim in the leg before the victim managed to kick the knife out of Vasquez’s hand, then grab hold of it.
Once disarmed, Vasquez ran, police said. He fled into a residential neighborhood in the 800 block of West Edna Place, where residents reported seeing him jumping through backyards.
Officers found Vasquez hiding in a yard and arrested him without a struggle, Peterson said.
According to Los Angeles County Superior Court and booking records, Vasquez was released from jail about 2:40 a.m. Saturday, 17 hours before the stabbings.
After being arrested by El Monte police in October, Vasquez was convicted of auto theft in November and served 112 days of a 242-day sentence, records show.
Vasquez’s has other previous criminal convictions including receiving stolen property in receiving stolen property in December, theft in September and trespassing in August, according to court records.
Vasquez remained in custody Sunday in lieu of $500,000 bail pending an arraignment hearing, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court, according to Los Angeles County booking records.

PHOTO: Louis Vasquez, 19, of La Puente (Courtesy of the Covina Police Department)

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UPDATED: Female Covina Valley Unified School District teachers accused of sex with students

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WEST COVINA >> Deputies arrested two Covina Valley Unified School District teachers on Saturday on suspicion of having sexual relationships with students, officials said.
South Hills High School teacher Melody Lippert, 38, of Covina and Michelle Ghirelli, 30, who was working on special assignment at the district office, are accused of engaging in sexual conduct with male students during two separate trips to San Clemente State Beach late last year, according to Orange County sheriff’s and CVUSD officials.
Records indicate Ghirelli served as a girls’ junior varsity softball coach at South Hills High School in 2010 through 2012.
Their arrests came just 10 days after police in West Covina arrested South Hills High School part-time girls’ wrestling coach Anthony Vidales, 29, of Covina on suspicion of having sex with a female student on Jan. 7. Police disclosed Vidales’ arrest Tuesday.
0119_NWS_SGT-L-WCTEACHERS2The alleged inappropriate conduct by the women began in November, when Lippert met a group of male students at San Clemente State Beach in Orange County, sheriff’s officials said.
• SOCIAL MEDIA: What students think of the Covina teachers’ arrest
“During the meeting at San Clemente State Beach, Lippert provided alcohol to students and engaged in a sexual relationship with one of them,” according to the sheriff’s department statement.
“Several weeks later, Lippert orchestrated an overnight camping trip to the same location with Ghirelli and several of the same high school students,” the statement continued. “During the camping trip, Lippert and Ghirelli are suspected of engaging in sexual relations with two students.”
The student Lippert was allegedly involved with was 18 or older, Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said. Ghirelli’s alleged victim was under 18.
The camping trips took place over the Thanksgiving and Winter holidays and was not sponsored by the school or the Covina Valley Unified School District, CVUSD spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said.
District officials were in the process of placing both teachers on administrative leave Sunday, she said. Parents were notified of the arrests by a recorded telephone message.
Lippert, an English teacher at South Hills High School, has worked for the school district for 15 years, Van Der Linden said. Ghirelli has been with the district for five years.
Van Der Linden said she had no information regarding any previous assignments the teachers may have had in the district prior to their current positions.
“We’re obviously taking it very, very seriously,” Van Der Linden said. She encouraged anyone with information to contact sheriff’s investigators.
“We’re gong to have additional counselors available Tuesday for students and staff,” Van Der Linden said.
Orange County sheriff’s officials began investigating the women on the evening late Friday after West Covina police notified them of the alleged sexual misconduct in their jurisdiction, officials said.
The allegations came to light when a fellow teacher reported the alleged inappropriate relationships to district officials, Van Der Linden said.
“No additional information about the alleged sexual relationships or the student victims is being released,” according the sheriff’s department statement.
Neither woman could be reached by telephone for comment Sunday.
Social media exploded with comments about the latest scandal at South Hills High School, many from students and alumni of South Hills High School. Comments ranges from apparent concern to jokes and sarcasm.
“Headlining every news channel, go south hills,” Twitter user @_toricazarez posted on the social network.
“South hills is a joke now,” Twitter user @ChrisCjmartin posted.
Others posted about their shock in learning of the arrests.
“Mrs. Lippert would never do this? she’s a sweet person and very loving,” Twitter user @ellieeamayaa wrote.
“my prayers go out mrs lippert and mrs ghirelli.!” user @victor92999 posted on Twitter.
Officials booked Lippert on suspicion of conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Ghirelli was booked on suspicion of oral copulation and unlawful sex with a minor.
According to Orange County booking records, Lippert posted $20,000 bail and was released from custody Sunday pending her initial court appearance. Ghirelli was freed on $50,000 bail.
No additional incidents or victims were known to investigators Sunday, Hallock said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at 714-647-7000. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227.

PHOTOS: Top – Melody Lippert, 38, of Covina; Below – Michelle Ghirelli, 30, of Covina. (Courtesy of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

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Police: Report of men attempting to buy child in Covina was misunderstanding

COVINA >> An incident in which a woman believed two men were trying to buy her son from her at a Covina supermarket this week was actually a misunderstanding and not a crime, police said Friday.
The woman called police Wednesday evening to report two men had just tried to buy her 2-year-old son at the Baja Ranch Supermarket, 425 S. Citrus Ave., Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
Police released surveillance images of the two involved men in hopes of developing information.
The plan worked, Peterson said. And investigators were confident Friday that the encounter was not a crime, but an attempted good deed gone awry.
“These two men were embarrassed and immediately came forward after watching the story on local media outlets,” Peterson said. “The Covina Police Department confirmed their story and believed there was no criminal intent, rather a philanthropic man trying to do a good deed.”
After speaking with the man who approached the woman Wednesday, “It was learned the Hispanic male is a successful local business owner who was at the market with his business partner to buy items for celebrating a successful year in his business,” Peterson said. “The subject observed the mother and her son and gave her compliments on how beautiful her son was. He said the boy resembled his son at that age.”
When the man spotted the woman and child again in the parking lot, with their car parked next to his, “He immediately thought it was a sign to be generous and reached into his pocket removing a $100 bill,” according to Peterson. “He offered the money to the woman and said, ‘Please take and use it to buy your son something’.’”
The woman refused to take the money, police said, and the man relayed to investigators that he left the $100 bill with her as a good deed before driving away.
Detectives re-interviewed the woman after obtaining the new information.
“The woman did say it was possible she misinterpreted what he said and what his intentions were,” Peterson said. “She was nervous and afraid because it seemed very strange to her that he was complementing her son so much and she was unsure of his intentions. The Covina Police Department is confident the incident was a misunderstanding and the men were overly complimentary and generous.”

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Police: Men try to buy toddler from woman at Covina supermarket


COVINA >> In a crime described by police as both bizarre and disturbing, two men tried to buy a woman’s 2-year-old son as she shopped at a Covina supermarket Wednesday, officials said.
Both the woman and child got away unharmed following the 7:40 p.m. encounter at the Baja Ranch Supermarket, 425 S. Citrus Ave., which detectives are investigating as an attempted human trafficking case, West Covina police Lt. Tim Doonan said.
Two men took part in the crime, police said. One approached the woman and child, while the other remained in the suspects’ SUV.
0109_NWS_SGT-L-CHILDThe first suspect walked up to the woman as she was checking out, Sgt. Gregg Peterson said in a written statement. He began complimenting the woman, telling her that both she and her son were beautiful.
“The suspect asked the woman if she wanted to sell her son, and when she told him no, the suspect continued with the compliments, but they were focused solely on her son.”
After finishing checking out at the store, the woman waited until several minutes after the man had left before exiting herself and heading toward her car with her son.
When the woman reached her car, she found the man sitting in the driver’s seat of a brown or champagne colored Honda Pilot parked next to her car, Peterson said. A second suspect was sitting in the passenger seat of the SUV.
The first man again began complimenting the woman and child.
Doonan said the man did not appear to be trying to intimidate the woman. “It was more like he was trying to charm her,” he said.
CHILD2“The woman told the suspect to leave them alone and he exited his vehicle,” Peterson said. “The suspect approached her and removed a $100 bill from his pocket. The suspect said, ‘Can I buy your son.’”
“The woman felt the suspect was going to try and kidnap her son and became so scared, she could not scream or yell for help,” he said.
Still clutching the $100 bill, the suspect urged the woman to take the money. The second suspect inside the SUV also told the woman, ‘Just take the money,’” Peterson said.
“When the woman did not answer, (the first suspect) said, “Just keep it, here”, and dropped the $100 bill in her shopping cart. (He) got into his vehicle and drove away with (the second suspect).
Police described the first suspect as a Latino man of about 45 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and 200 pounds. He wore blue jeans, a brown button-down shirt and a black baseball cap with a white logo on the front.
The second suspect, who remained in the SUV, was a black man in his 50s, about 6 feet tall and 215 pounds, wearing tan slacks and a long-sleeve white shirt, police said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Covina Police Department Detective Bureau at 626-384-5612. Tips may also be submitted anonymously via L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO/VIDEO: Police are seeking the men pictured in this surveillance video (brown shirt, black baseball cap) for trying to buy a woman’s 2-year-old son at the Baja Ranch Supermarket in Covina on Jan 7, 2015. (courtesy)

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