San Gabriel man pleads not guilty in slaying of El Monte fast-food worker

EL MONTE >> A San Gabriel man accused of gunning down a fast-food worker during a botched robbery in El Monte last year denied a capital murder charge on Wednesday, authorities said.
Louie Francisco Herrera, 20, pleaded not guilty in connection with the Oct. 21 shooting at a Jack in the Box restaurant at 9220 Flair Drive that claimed the life of 25-year-old Juan Manuel Vidal of El Monte. Vidal was engaged to be married to his longtime girlfriend, had just graduated pharmacy technician school and was looking forward to starting his new career, according to family members and investigators.
Prosecutors allege the special circumstance that Herrera committed murder during an attempted robbery, as well as the special allegation that her personally used a handgun in the crime, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
The special allegation makes Herrera potentially eligible for the death penalty if convicted, however, prosecutors have yet to determine whether the death penalty will be sought in the case, according to Ardalani. If capital punishment is not pursued, Herrera could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
After entering his not guilty plea, Herrera was ordered back to the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 17 for a hearing in the case.
Vidal was working at the cash register when a masked man entered the restaurant holding a handgun, demanded money, and immediately fired shot, which mortally wounded Vidal. The gunman then fled empty-handed.
The violent robbery attempt was captured on video by store surveillance cameras.
•Video: Surveillance camera footage of deadly El Monte Jack in the Box robbery
The case remained unsolved for more than three months, as authorities from El Monte, the County of Los Angeles and Jack in the Box established a reward fund totaling $55,000 in the case.
Tips from the public helped officials identify Herrera as a suspect in the deadly shooting, investigators said. Sheriff’s deputies found him riding as a passenger in a car in Alhambra on Jan. 9 and arrested him without a struggle, according to Detective Adan Torres of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau.
Herrera also faces robbery charges in connection with other heists that took place on Oct. 2, 5, 15 and 19 in Irwindale, San Gabriel, Alhambra and Monterey Park, according to sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials.

PHOTOS: [TOP] Photo of murder suspect Louis Francisco Herrera displayed on a poster during a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department press conference on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (Leo Jarzomb) [MIDDLE] Photo of homicide victim Juan Manuel Vidal, 25, of El Monte. (Courtesy) [BELOW] Photograph of crime scene taken one day after the slaying. (Brian Day)

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Two suspects charged with murder in fatal stabbing of El Monte man


EL MONTE >> Two suspects have been charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of an El Monte man last month, officials announced Wednesday.
Following “a detailed and lengthy investigation,” into the Feb. 19 stabbing death of 22-year-old Alejandro Rojas, detectives identified two suspects and a SWAT team arrested them on March 2 during a raid at a home in the 11400 block of Kerrwood Street in El Monte, according to Deputy Lisa Jansen of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Information Bureau.
Prosecutors filed murder charges on Monday against Daniel Anthony Lopez, 22, and Adrian Alejandro Castillo, 25, both of El Monte, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. Castillo is also accused of the special allegation that he personally wielded a knife in the killing..
Rojas was walking down the street in the 4200 block of Peck Road with his cousin when the suspects approached in a Nissan Sentra and pulled over alongside them, sheriff’s officials said.
“Suspect Castillo, a passenger, exited the vehicle and stabbed Victim Rojas,” Jansen said in a written statement. “Rojas with the assistance of his (cousin) ran from the location to a nearby residence and collapsed.”
Paramedics took Rojas to a hospital, where he soon succumbed to his injuries.
“Suspects Lopez and Castillo drove away from the scene and out of sight,” Jansen said. “The motive for the murder is unknown and there is no further information at this time.”
Lopez and Castillo appeared in the Pomona branch of Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday but entered no plea, Ardalani said. An arraignment hearing for both defendants was postponed to April 5.
According to county booking records, Castillo was being held without bail pending his court proceedings. He has prior convictions in Los Angeles County for crimes including vandalism and resisting police in January, as well as possession of a gun by a felon in 2014, driving with a blood-alochol level above .08 percent in 2013, and driving without a valid license in 2011, according to court records.
Lopez was being held in lieu of $2 million bail, records show. He has a single prior criminal conviction listed in Los Angeles County for trespassing in a structure in 2014.

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Police seize 3,300 marijuana plants, meth, gun from El Monte warehouse; Walnut man jailed

EL MONTE >> Police jailed a convicted felon from Walnut early Friday after recovering 3,300 marijuana plants, 308 pounds of finished pot, an ounce of methamphetamine and a loaded gun from a warehouse in El Monte, authorities said.
Brian Lee Skipper, 46, was arrested during the 7 a.m. raid at a commercial building at 2645 Merced Ave., according to El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna. Investigators showed up with a search warrant, seeking an illicit marijuana-growing operation.
“Upon entry, police personnel located (Skipper) and numerous pieces of equipment and devices used for the cultivation of marijuana and concentrated cannabis,” Luna said in a written statement, “In addition, detectives located methamphetamine, a loaded firearm and surveillance and security equipment.”
Police also found “numerous types of hazardous chemicals” used in the production of concentrated cannabis, also known as “wax” or “honey oil.”
“As a result, the location was vacated and additional investigators from the L.A. Impact Narcotics Team and Los Angeles County Hazardous Materials responded,” Luna said. “An additional investigation was completed as well as a cleanup which rendered the property safe.”
Police also allege the grow operation was wired to bypass the electric meter and steal power from the grid.
Skipper was booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sales, operating a chemical drug lab, possession of methamphetamine for sale, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and theft of utility services.
The seized marijuana and methamphetamine carry an estimated street value of $750,000, Luna said.
Skipper, a convicted felon who was on active probation, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.
Skipper just pleaded guilty in January of Possession of methamphetamine for sale and theft of utlities in a case first filed in 2014, according to San Bernardino Superior Court records. He also admitted a prior drug offense. Additional charges of cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sales were dismissed.
He was also convicted in San Bernardino County of domestic abuse in June of 2006, and of making criminal threats in 2001, records show.
In Los Angeles County, Skipper’s criminal history stretches from 1989 to 2011 and includes convictions for drug possession, assault and battery, an illegal weapon violation and driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact El Monte police at 626-580-2100, or by email at tips@empd.org.

PHOTO of Brian Lee Skipper, 46, of Walnut courtesy of the El Monte Police Department

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Man critically wounded in El Monte shooting

EL MONTE >> A man suffered serious injuries but is expected to survive after he was found shot in the backyard of an El Monte home early Thursday, authorities said.
Residents called police to report gunfire about 8:30 a.m. along Rio Hondo Parkway, just east of La Madera Avenue, El Monte police Lt. Ernie Kramer said.
Thje victim, a man estimated to be in his 20s, was found in the backyard of a home suffering from three gunshot wounds, the lieutenant said.
Paramedics took the wounded man to hospital, where he was listed in critical-but-stable condition after undergoing emergency surgery, Kramer said.
No further details, including a suspect description or a motive, were available Thursday afternoon.
A black car was seen leaving the area about the time of the shooting, but it was not yet clear if that car had been involved.
Anyone with information can reach the El Monte Police Department at 626-580-2110.

PHOTO by Leo Jarzomb

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El Monte man killed in stabbing identified


EL MONTE >> Coroner’s officials have released the identity of a 22-year-old man who was fatally stabbed as he walked along Peck Road with his cousin on Sunday.
Alejandro Rojas died at a hospital about an hour after the stabbing, which took place about 11:40 a.m. Sunday outside a liquor store in the 4200 block of Peck Road, Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said. He died four days after his 22nd birthday.
He was walking down the street, accompanied by his cousin, when a car heading north along Peck Road pulled up alongside them, according deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Information Bureau.
An attacker exited the passenger side of the car and confronted the cousins before pulling a knife and stabbing Rojas in the chest, the deputy said.
The killer returned to the vehicle, which sped away, officials said. A detailed description of the attacker and their car was not available. The motive was unclear.
Rojas was taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries.
His cousin was unhurt in the attack, Navarro-Suarez said.
The sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is assisting El Monte police with the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact homicide detectives ar 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: Man fatally stabbed in El Monte


EL MONTE >> A man died in a stabbing outside a liquor store in El Monte on Sunday, authorities said.
The deadly stabbing was reported just before 11:45 a.m. in the 4200 block of Peck Road, according to Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Information Bureau.
“The victim and his cousin were walking south on Peck Road when a vehicle headed northbound on Peck Road pulled alongside them,” Navarro-Suarez said in a written statement.
A man exited the front passenger seat of the car and confronted the two men, she said.
“The suspect produced a knife and stabbed the victim in the chest,” according to Navarro-Suarez. “The suspect then re-entered the vehicle and fled away north and out of view.”
The wounded man and his cousin ran north along Peck Road before the stabbing victim collapsed, officials said. Paramedics took him to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, officials said. The cousin was not hurt.
The motive in the stabbing was unclear, and no further descriptions of the attacker or the getaway driver were available.
Investigators had yet to determine the motive in the fatal attack, and no further details were available.
The sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is helping the El Monte Police Department with the investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to contact 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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Wrestling coach at El Monte high school denies allegations of sex with 3 underage students

EL MONTE >> A wrestling coach from an El Monte high school initially arrested on suspicion of carrying on a sexual relationship with one underage female student denied 20 sex crime charges after the allegations expanded to include a total of three students in crimes dating back to 2015, authorities said.
Part-time Arroyo High School wrestling coach David Vaca, 21, of West Covina pleaded not guilty to seven counts of oral copulation of a person under 18, six counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, six counts of penetration by a foreign object involving a minor and one count of sodomy on a person under 16 years old, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
El Monte police arrested Vaca Wednesday after learning of allegations of a sexual relationship between him and a 16-year-old female student between December of 2016 and January, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said. He initially accused of four felony sex crimes.
But as the investigation continued, prosecutors added two additional victims to the case, along with additional criminal charges.
“At separate times, the defendant allegedly had sexual relationships with three female students from the high school between June 1, 2015, and Jan. 28, 2017,” Ardalani said in a written statement.
Prosecutors requested bail be set at $965,000. He was initially held in lieu of $60,000 bail following his arrest Wednesday.
After entering his plea on Friday, Vaca was scheduled to return to Pomona Superior Court on Feb. 21 for a pre-preliminary hearing, court officials said.
Anyone with information can reach El Monte police at 626-580-2110. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO of David Vaca, 21, of West Covina courtesy of the El Monte Police Department.

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Stolen car pursuit leads from El Monte to Baldwin Park, ends with crash on 10 Freeway


BALDWIN PARK >> Police and California Highway Patrol officer jailed an auto theft suspect who led them on a pursuit from El Monte before crashing into a CHP cruiser in Baldwin Park while fleeing in the wrong direction of traffic on the 10 Freeway, authorities said.
The suspect was found and taken into custody nearby, and no officers were hurt in the incident, which began shortly before 9 p.m. in El Monte, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Polizzi said. Authorities briefly shut down the westbound lanes of the 10 Freeway following the collision, but quickly reopened them.
A LoJack vehicle anti-theft signal first attracted the attention of El Monte police to the vehicle, officials said.
The driver failed to pull over for police, initiating a chase that reached high speeds and travelled on the wrong side of the roadway more than once.
The CHP took over the pursuit as the driver made his way onto the 60 Freeway. Shortly after he began heading east in the westbound lanes of the freeway, he collided with a CHP cruiser near Baldwin Park Boulevard, Polizzi said.
It was not immediately clear whether the CHP officer crashed into the suspect intentionally or unintentionally.
The driver got out of the crashed car and continued to flee on foot, but was soon captured in a nearby neighborhood, officials said.
CHP officials could not confirm initial radio reports from the scene that a gun was recovered from inside the suspect’s stolen car.
No further details were available late Wednesday.

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Part-time wrestling coach at Arroyo High School in El Monte accused of sex with teenage girl

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EL MONTE >> Police jailed a part-time wrestling coach at Arroyo High School on Wednesday on suspicion of carrying on a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl, authorities said.
David Vaca Jr., 21, of West Covina is accused of four felonies related to child molestation, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said in a written statement. And detectives were seeking any possible additional victims.
“Between December 2016 and January 2017, the suspect, David Vaca, engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female victim,” Luna said. “The crimes occurred at various locations in the cities of El Monte and South El Monte.”
Vaca works as a part-time wrestling coach at Arroyo High School in El Monte, Luna said. It was unclear late Wednesday whether the alleged victim was a student at the campus.
Vaca was being held in lieu of $60,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, county booking records show.
Anyone with information is asked to contact El Monte police at 626-580-2114, or via email at tips@empd.org. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO of David Vaca Jr. courtesy of the El Monte Police Department

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Caught on camera: Man and woman sought in El Monte convenience store robbery


EL MONTE >> Police are asking the public’s help in identifying a tattoo-faced man and woman who took customers hostage during an armed robbery at an El Monte convenience store over the weekend.
The crime unfolded just after midnight on Sunday at Circle K, 5202 Peck Road, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said.
“Both (robbers) came in armed,” he said.
The male gunman demanded money from the clerk as his female accomplice pointed her handgun at two customers who tried to leave and forced them to stay in the store during the robbery, the sergeant said.
After obtaining cash from the employee, the suspect fled from the store and were last seen running south toward Hemlock Street, police said.
Police described one of the robbers as a Latino man of about 35 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 140 pounds, with a mustache, a “soul patch” goatee and a eagle tattoo on the right side of his face. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants and gray tennis shoes, and carried a black-and-gray semi-automatic handgun.
The second robber was a Latina woman of about 17 or 18 years old, 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 4 inches tall, 110 to 120 pounds, with gray hair and blue eyes. She wore a hooded sweater and gray pants and she carried a chrome semi-automatic handgun.
Anyone with information is asked to contact El Monte police at 626-580-2114, or via email at tips@empd.org. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
“Both suspects are considered armed and dangerous,” Luna added.

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PHOTO/VIDEO courtesy of the El Monte Police Department

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