WEST COVINA >> Dozens of San Gabriel Valley first responders took part in a large-scale active shooter training scenario simulating a terrorist attack on a West Covina shopping mall Sunday.
Six local law enforcement agencies, federal officials and firefighters took part in the mock terror attack at the Plaza West Covina shopping mall, which was held early in the morning, before mall business opened for the day.
“We take the safety of our visitors and our residents very seriously,” West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said. “There have been several incidents that have happened on the east coast — one happened last week — that certainly have raised our awareness that we need to be prepared. And in my view, we need to be ready for something and hope it never happens, (rather) than to respond to something we weren’t prepared for.”
A blast from a flash-bang grenade intended to simulate a bomb detonation signalled the beginning of the intensive drill at the mall, where three West Covina police officers played the role of heavily armed gunmen bent on creating carnage. Within minutes, the sounds of simulated gunshots echoed through the mall as police engaged the mock terrorists in a gunfight.
Two of the pseudo suspects carried assault rifles, while the third carried a shotgun.
Participating first responders were not told ahead of time what they would be facing in the drill, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez explained.
“Each officer involved in this has to determine how to best handle the situation,” he said.
Police simultaneously hunted for the gunmen and rescued mock victims who wore makeup to simulate injuries. Some officers carried their standard duty sidearms, while others were armed with rifles.
Patrol officers called in a SWAT team after the attack turned into a hostage situation.
Practicing a technique known as “fast-roping,” West Covina police SWAT members slid down a rope from a hovering Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter to join in the operation.
The West Covina Police Department’s recently acquired rescue vehicle, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle acquired from the U.S. Department of Defense, was used to evacuate victims.
After a scenario that lasted about an hour, the three suspects had been killed in shoot-outs with officers. Three civilians had also been killed during the scenario, and many more wounded.
Police officers from West Covina, Covina, Baldwin Park and Irwindale police departments were joined by California Highway Patrol officers, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, FBI agents, West Covina firefighters and mall security officials in responding to the mock attack, Lopez said. While West Covina has hosted similar training scenarios in the past, Sunday’s training session was their biggest.
About 75 law enforcement officers participated, along with about 60 volunteers playing the part of victims or bystanders, officials said. The volunteers were primarily police Explorers from the West Covina, Glendora and Ontario police departments.
“Whether this incident happens in West Covina, or happens in Irwindale or Covina, we’re familiar with working with each others’ team,” the chief said. “We might be in different uniforms, but in the end, we’re all in one uniform when it comes time to deal with a critical incident.”
After watching the exercise unfold at the mall, West Covina City Councilman Fred Sykes said he approved.
“A place this large, it’s unfathomable for us not to look at what to do in this type of situation,” he said.
The costs and planning associated with massive drill is a wise investment, as it may help save lives down the road, Sykes said.
“This is extremely important for our community,” the councilman said.
Just like in sports, he added, “The battles are won in practice.”
COVINA >> A missing, possibly suicidal Covina man being sought by police and worried family members was found safe Saturday afternoon, officials said.
The 50-year-old man disappeared about 6 p.m. Friday after he was seen walking in the 700 block of North Fenimore Avenue, Covina police Sgt. Rob Bobkiewicz said.
Friends and family members contacted police after the man failed to show up for a meeting Saturday morning, the sergeant said.
The man’s car was found parked in his driveway, Bobkiewicz said. And inside his home, a family member found what appeared to a suicide note spelling out his last wishes.
The man returned home Saturday afternoon, unharmed, as detectives were there conducting an investigation.
PASADENA >> Two weeks before a Pasadena man was set to begin his annual 450-mile charity bike ride to raise money for substance abuse recovery, his valuable elliptical bike was stolen from his garage.
And while the theft was a disappointment, 50-year-old Robin McGeough is not letting the costly setback take the air out of his tires. The 2014 Run 4 Recovery, from San Francisco to Pasadena and benefitting the Puente House sober living center in Covina, will begin as planned Oct. 1, McGeough said. He has obtained a new elliptical bicycle to complete the scheduled ride from San Francisco to Pasadena.
McGeough discovered the $2,600 black ElliptiGO bike missing from his garage in an alley between Plymouth Drive and Robinson Road Tuesday, according to McGeough and Pasadena police Lt. John Luna. It was believed to have been taken some time overnight.
No suspect information was available, Luna said. The following day, McGeough began circulating fliers in his neighborhood, explaining the bike’s purpose and asking neighbors if they had seen the stolen bike. But he also said he hoped the thief may see the flier.
“I want whoever stole my bike to be able to know that it meant something,” McGeough said. “I was a vehicle for more than just exercise.”
COVINA >> An observant tipster helped police arrest two auto theft suspects and recover two stolen cars at a Covina parking lot Friday, officials said.
Ricardo Garcia, 41, of Azusa and Mark Joseph Munoz, 35, of Glendora, were booked on suspicion of auto theft and receiving stolen property following their arrests, which took place about 5:20 p.m. in a commercial parking lot at the corner of Azusa Avenue and San Bernardino Road, Covina police Lt. Tim Doonan said.
The incident began when a man noticed the suspects “tinkering” with a 1992 Acura Integra in the parking lot, Doonan said. When the witness noticed the men were trying to start the car using a screwdriver, he became suspicious and called police.
Both suspects fled as officers approached, the lieutenant said.
Garcia was immediately captured, Doonan said. Munoz ran into a nearby auto parts store, where he was found and arrested without a struggle.
The Acura was determined to have been stolen earlier in the day in West Covina, Doonan said.
Garcia and Munoz were found to have credit cards and other documents in the names of other people, he said. They also had documents connected to a 1994 Nissan pickup truck found parked about 50 feet away from the Acura in the parking lot.
Police soon determined the truck had been reported stolen Thursday in Covina.
Garcia and Munoz were being held in lieu of $25,000 bail at the Covina Police Department’s jail pending their initial court appearances, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
COVINA >> A man is expected to survive after he was shot several times at a Covina hotel late Wednesday, police said.
Hotel staff reported a shooting inside one of the hotel rooms about 10:40 p.m., Covina police Sgt. Rob Bobkiewicz said.
Officers arrived to find a 32-year-old man suffering from wounds to his torso, the sergeant said. The man was taken to a hospital where he was rushed into surgery.
No suspects were in custody in connection with the shooting, Bobkiewicz said, however police arrested a man who was staying in the same motel room as the victim on suspicion of possessing stolen property.
Ivan Lascano, 31, of Azusa was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail pending a court appearance, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records. Detectives continued investigating whether he was involved in the shooting.
Police released no further details regarding the circumstances of the shooting as they continued their investigation Thursday.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective Stacy Franco at 626-384-5616.
COVINA >> A man suffered a gunshot wound to his abdomen when an argument escalated into a shooting in a residential neighborhood near Covina early Sunday, authorities said.
Few details were initially available as detectives continued investigating the scene of the shooting, which was reported about 3:40 a.m. in the 16600 block of Kingside Drive, in an unincorporated county area just west of Covina, Sgt. Louis Serrano of the sheriff’s San Dimas Station said.
The wounded man was taken to a hospital, where he was listed stable condition, Serrano said.
Several people were being detained in connection with the shooting, however no formal arrests had been made, the sergeant said. “The situation is evolving right now.”
Further details regarding the circumstances of the shooting were not available.
A news videographer at the scene said a silver Nissan Altima was at the home with a shattered rear window.
SAN DIMAS >> A Covina man died late Saturday in a crash on the 10 Freeway in San Dimas, authorities said.
Wilfredo Matos Jr. was killed in the 10 p.m. crash on the westbound 10 Freeway, just east of Via Verde, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said.
He was driving a 1997 Nissan in the No. 3 lane, passing a 2005 Ford in the right-hand lane, just prior to the collision, California Highway Patrol officials said in a written statement.
Witnesses indicated the Nissan, “executed an unsafe lane change,” the statement said. The right, rear portion of Matos’ Nissan struck the front, left portion of the Ford.
Officials said the Nissan then skidded out of control, ultimately slamming into a tree along the right side of the freeway.
Paramedics pronounced Matos dead at the scene, Corral said.
The 17-year-old Covina boy driving the Ford and his passenger, a 27-year-old Covina man, were unhurt, according to the CHP.
The crash was being investigated by the Baldwin Park office of the CHP.
IRWINDALE >> A drunken Covina man led Irwindale police on a 4-mile chase before being arrested late Saturday, officials said.
A detective was patrolling in the area of Arrow Highway and Vincent Avenue about 9:15 p.m. when he noticed late-1990s Honda Accord came to a “screeching stop” at the intersection, Irwindale police Sgt. George Zendejas said.
Suspecting DUI, the detective tried to pull over the car, but it sped away heading south on Vincent Avenue, police said.
The chase reached speeds of up to 70 mph as it wound through surface streets in an unincorporated county area near Covina, Zendejas said.
The driver, 24-year-old Freddy Rios Godoy, ultimately stopped in the front yard of a relative’s home in the 16600 block of Benwood Street, the sergeant said. He was then taken into custody without a struggle.
He was booked on suspicion of intoxicated driving and evading police, as well as an outstanding $10,000 arrest warrant from another law enforcement agency, police said.
According to county booking records, Godoy was being held in lieu of $85,000 bail at the Glendora Police Department’s jail pending his arraignment, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
GLENDORA >> Glendora police Wednesday jailed an alleged residential burglary ring comprised of five Los Angeles gang members, officials said.
The four men and a teenage boy are accused of three burglaries in Glendora Wednesday, as well as at least one additional burglary in Covina, Glendora police Lt. James De Mond said. And detectives continued working to link them to additional crimes.
The burglars primarily stole jewelry from the homes, the lieutenant said.
The arrests came after Glendora officers police responded to a report of a burglary in the 700 block of East Essex Street, the lieutenant said. A resident had arrived home to find the front door kicked in and the home ransacked.”
“As officers were investigating this burglary, a resident in the 1100 block of East Dover Street called to report seeing five males attempting to get in a screen door of a residence,” De Mond said.
Police rushed to Dover Street where officers spotted two young men running between homes in the neighborhood, as well as a white Toyota Camry with paper license plates driving away, De Mond said.
Police stopped the car and arrested Jaime Estrada, 26, of Maywood, who was on parole for burglary, De Mond said. Stolen property from all four burglaries was found in the Camry. Some items found in the car had been stolen in another residential burglary in the 1000 block of East Bradford Drive that was not reported until later in the day.
Officers searched the neighborhood and found Martin Sanchez, 26, of Hacienda Heights and Junior Valdez, 25, of Los Angeles hiding in a nearby garage, police said. Two other suspects, identified as Jerry Castro, 21, of Los Angeles and a teenage boy from Cudahy, hiding in a side yard and trying to break into a garage.
A Pasadena police helicopter and two Pasadena police K-9s took part in the search.
“All of the suspects have been identified as 38th Street gang members out of South Central Los Angeles,” De Mond said.
Estrada was being held without bail while the three other adult suspects were being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, according to Los Angeles County booking records. All four were scheduled to be arraigned Friday in West Covina Superior Court.
The teenage suspect was taken to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall.
SOUTH EL MONTE >> Officers arrested two people and discovered more than 700 marijuana plants growing in a vacant business on Thursday.
Covina Police Sgt. Jim McDonough said officers served a search warrant about 1 p.m. at the secluded, seemingly vacant business in 2600 block of Chico Avenue in South El Monte.
George Almaguer, 26, Pico Rivera and Jenny Ly, 31, of Rosemead were arrested at the scene, he said. They were booked on suspicion of cultivating marijuana and theft of electricity, as the sophisticated hydroponic grow operation was wired to bypass the electrical meter and steal its power directly from the Southern California Edison grid, the sergeant said.
Police estimated the grow operation had stolen at least $10,000 worth of electricity from the utility over the past year.
“There were three different rooms, each for different stages of growth,” the sergeant said. In all, police seized 733 pot plants from the buidling.
Investigators seized about $2,000 in suspected drug money that Almaguer was carrying, McDonough added.
The building where the pot grow was uprooted Thursday was situated at the rear of a lot that was secured with a padlocked gate, McDonough said.
Thursday’s bust was related to another investigation where a grow house was found in Covina on May 26, police said.
In the May incident, officers responding to call of several downed power lines smelled marijuana coming from a house in the 200 block of North Larkin Drive. More than 200 marijuana plants were found on the Larkin Drive residence.
That investigation led to Thursday’s search and arrests in South El Monte, though McDonough declined to say exactly how detectives identified the South El Monte address as a suspected grow operation. The investigation was ongoing.
A suspect has been identified in connection with the Larkin Drive grow house, however no arrests have been made, McDonough said.
- By Brian Day and Ruby Gonzales
PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department