Brother and sister killed in El Monte house fire identified


EL MONTE >> Coroner’s officials have identified two siblings killed in a fire at their El Monte home a month ago.
Margarita Dennis, 73, died a hospital following the fire, which was first reported shortly after 10 p.m. Nov. 5 at a home in the 12300 block of Felipe Street, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
Her brother, 61-year-old David Gutierrez, died at the scene, coroner’s officials said.
Their officials identifications were delayed due to the condition of the remains, as well as efforts to notify family members.
An autopsy determined Dennis died from smoke inhalation and burns, and the death was ruled accidental, coroner’s officials said. Gutierrez’s cause of death was yet to be determined pending the results of forensic tests.
The siblings lived at the home with another brother, who escaped the fire unharmed, officials said.
The house was destroyed by the fire, which firefighters extinguished 21 minutes after being summoned to the scene.
Handling detectives at the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Bureau could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The cause of the fire was unavailable.

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UPDATED: Man’s body found in back of SUV parked in El Monte


EL MONTE >> Homicide detectives are investigating the suspicious death of a man whose body was found in the back seat of a sport utility vehicle parked at an intersection Friday afternoon.
The death was first reported around 2 p.m. in a residential neighborhood at Ferris Road at Cogswell Road, according to Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau. The sheriff’s department is assisting El Monte police with the investigation.
Capture2Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Philip Guzman said a gardener working in the neighborhood first discovered an unresponsive man in the back seat of a Cadillac SUV parked along the north curb of Ferris Road.
Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene.
Guzman said the investigation remained in its early stages, and it has yet to be determined if the man was a victim of foul play.
“It looks like the person may have suffered some trauma,” he said.
Blood was found on the man’s upper body, but the source of the blood or whether it was related to the cause of death remained unknown, Guzman said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner will determine how the man died. An autopsy is pending. Authorities have not identified the dead man.
Capture3The Cadillac SRX was registered to an owner in Los Angeles, officials said. Detectives had not made contact with the registered owner yet.
Guzman said the SUV had been parked on Ferris Road since at least Thursday morning and possibly earlier. But it was unclear if the body had been inside the entire time.
Neighborhood resident Cassandra Davidson, 25, said she walks by daily as she heads to and from work.
The SUV was parked in the same spot when she passed by about noon Wednesday, she said. Davidson said she recalled a foul odor while passing by the SUV, but wasn’t sure if it emanated from the vehicle itself or from a storm drain next to it.
She said the grisly discovery left her nervous, as she often walks the neighborhood alone after late shifts at her job.
Neighbors said they did not see or hear anything unusual before the gardener discovered the body.
A distraught man waiting at the scene for information did not wish to comment.
Investigators planned to have the SUV with the body still inside towed to the coroner’s office.
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.


PHOTOS by Sarah Reingewirtz

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Bomb squad detonates safe found in El Monte library parking lot

EL MONTE >> A bomb squad blew up a safe found abandoned in a library parking lot in El Monte Thursday evening, ultimately finding it to be empty, authorities said.
The incident began about 6:50 p.m. when police received reports of a suspicious object found in the rear parking lot of Norwood Library, 4550 N. Peck Road, El Monte police Lt. Ben Lowry said.
Officers found a reinforced metal safe, about 2-and-a-half feet tall, sitting in the parking lot, the lieutenant said.
Out of an “abundance of caution,” Lowry said officials evacuated about six nearby homes and summoned a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad to the scene.
A bank at 9:47 p.m. signaled the bomb squad’s detonation of the safe, Lowey said. “The container was empty.”
Police were still looking into where the safe came from, and whether it had been previously stolen before it was found empty and abandoned.

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UPDATED: Suspect arrested following 4-hour standoff at El Monte business

EL MONTE >> Police officers, including one on four legs, captured an auto theft suspect who holed up inside an El Monte business for four hours Wednesday, officials said.
The incident began shortly before noon when a LoJack vehicle ant-theft signal led police to a stolen car in the 9200 block of Telstar Avenue, El Monte police Sgt. Ernie Cramer said.
As officers approached, the driver quickly pulled into the parking lot of a social services office and ran from the car, the sergeant said. He ran into a nearby large building housing a furniture store and a badminton club.
Officer evacuated the building, where the suspect was believed to be hiding, Cramer said. There was no indication he was armed.
Police began a search of the large building, ultimately finding the suspect hiding inside about 4 p.m., Cramer said.
He refused to surrender, so officers sent in a police dog, which bit the man and helped take him into custody, Cramer said.
Police took the suspect, a man in his 20s, to a hospital for treatment prior to the booking process, he said.

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One dead, one critically injured in El Monte house fire

EL MONTE >> A house fire in El Monte left one person dead and another critically injured late Thursday, authorities said.
The fire ignited just after 10 p.m. at a single-story house in the 12300 block of Felipe Street, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Kyle Sanford said.
Firefighters found the home “fully involved” with flames on arrival, he said.
Two people were pulled from the burning home, officials said.
Paramedics pronounced one patient dead at the scene, Sanford said. No description of the victim was available.
A second victim, described as an elderly woman, was pulled from the home in “full arrest,” Sanford said. Paramedics rushed her to a hospital for treatment.
Firefighter encountered a third person at the home, though that person did not appear to be injured, Sanford said.
Officials declared the fire extinguished 23 minutes after it was first reported.

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Alleged serial car thief arrested after chase from Arcadia to Temple City, crash

ARCADIA >> An El Monte man already sought on an auto theft warrant led police on chase in a stolen car from Arcadia to Temple City, where he was arrested following a crash early Sunday, authorities said.
Bryan Paul Sanchez, 20, was behind the wheel of a Toyota Sienna van when police tried to pull him over for a traffic violation about 3:30 a.m. at Sunset Boulevard and Duarte Road, Arcadia police Lt. Colleen Flores said. Sanchez sped away, and the chase was on.
“The pursuit entered the city of Temple City where the driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a (Southern California) Edison telephone pole,”police said in a written statement.
Sanchez continued fleeing on foot following the crash about two miles to the south at Temple City Boulevard, just south of Olive Street, police said. But he was quickly apprehended in the area.
The car he had been driving was reported stolen the previous night in South El Monte, Flores said.
Officers also found drugs and a suspected stolen credit card in Sanchez’s possession, Flores said.
He was booked on suspicion of auto theft, evading police, receiving stolen property, drug possession, hit-and-run and his outstanding arrest warrant.
Sanchez, who was already wanted on a warrant for auto theft with a history of the same, was being held without bail, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.

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Suspects jailed following El Monte carjacking, robbery

EL MONTE >> A man and woman carjacked a man and robbed him and his friend at gunpoint outside an El Monte pizza parlor early Sunday before police tracked a stolen cell phone to find and arrest them, officials said.
Samuel Barajas, 24, of El Monte is accused of carjacking, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and resisting police following the crime, which unfolded about 12:20 a.m. outside a Pizza Hut, 11910 Garvey Ave., El Monte police Lt. Chris Cano said. Ana Hidalgo, 18, of El Monte, is accused of carjacking and resisting police.
A 19-year-old Whittier man was talking with a friend, a 21-year-old El Monte man, when the suspects approached, Cano said.
Barajas brandished a handgun while demanding the Whittier man’s Infiniti G35, as well as both men’s cell phones, the lieutenant said. The victim’s complied, and the suspects fled in the stolen Infiniti.
The car was soon found abandoned along Whittier Boulevard in Pico Rivera, Cano said.
But police managed to track one of the stolen cell phones, which led them to a moving taxi cab, he said. Officers pulled over the taxi in the area of Peck Road and Durfee Avenue in South El Monte, Cano said.
Police arrested Hidalgo without a struggle, Cano said.
Barajas refused police commands, prompting them to shoot him with a less-lethal foam projectile fired from a 40mm grenade launcher, he said. Barajas ran, but was ultimately subdued nearby with help from a police K-9.
Police recovered a loaded handgun from the taxi in which the suspects were riding, Cano added.
Barajas was taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries including dog bites to his arm prior to booking, police said.
He was released from jail in August after serving less than one year of a two year sentence following a conviction for assault likely to produce great bodily injury, Los Angeles County Superior Court and booking records show. He was acquitted of an attempted murder charge in the same case.
Hidalgo was being held in lieu of $180,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, records show.

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El Monte DMV clerk, others, face charges in alleged identity theft conspiracy

SANTA ANA>> An El Monte DMV clerk and five others defendants face federal identity theft charges stemming from an alleged scheme to sell legitimate Puerto Rican birth certificates and Social Security numbers to create phony new documents for buyers, many of them previously deported felons, authorities said Wednesday.
Tracey Lynette Jones, 33, of Long Beach, an employee of the DMV office in El Monte, surrendered to investigators Monday after a federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against her and five other defendants, late last month, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
Also charged is alleged scheme ringleader Wilfredo Montero, 36, of Los Angeles; Adolfo Maria Cruz, 47, of Corona; Roberto Ruiz, 35, of Tustin; Jose Cruz, 49, of Corona; and Jorge “Diablo” Perez, also known as Pedro Josue Figeroa-Martinez, 33, of Mexico.
All six defendants are charged with conspiracy to produce ID theft documents, officials said. Some of them, including Jones, are also charged with additional ID-theft related crimes.
“The conspiracy was allegedly spearheaded by Montero and catered to individuals willing to pay as much as $5,000 for new identities obtained with genuine birth certificates and Social Security numbers obtained from Puerto Rico residents,” Mrozek said. “Investigators are working to identify the source of the documents obtained from Puerto Rico.”
The three-year-long investigation determined that “many” of the customers of the ID theft ring were previously deported felons, he said.
“Federal prosecutors have filed charges against three people believed to be customers of the identity theft ring, and authorities are seeking to take those individuals into custody.”
Claud Arnold, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, said the case highlights the public safety threat associated with identity theft.
“Based on our evidence, this ring’s clients had good reason to want to obscure their pasts,” Arnold said. “And for a price, the defendants were allegedly willing to oblige. Our probe is ongoing and we’re aggressively pursuing all those involved.”
Jones pleaded not guilty at her initial court appearance Monday and was released on $25,000 bond, Mrozek said.
Three of the other defendants in the case, who were arrested in September, have been freed on bond pending trial, officials said. One remains in custody, and Perez remains a fugitive.
Trial is scheduled for Nov. 24.
In addition to procuring bogus ID documents, the defendants helped their clients obtain California driver licenses and identification cards under their false identities, Mrozek said. Jones allegedly altered DMV records to make it appear clients had passed written driving exams when, in fact, they hadn’t.
“This identity theft scheme was particularly insidious because it both victimized the individuals whose identities were stolen and required the active participation of a government official,” United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker said. “The fact that a DMV official abused her position of authority in committing this crime is egregious since such conduct can undermine the public’s confidence in a government institution entrusted with our personal information.”

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El Monte teen accused of making pipe bomb denies charges


LOS ANGELES >> An El Monte teen accused of making a pipe bomb pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three felony charges related to possession of explosives, authorities said.
During an appearance in Los Angeles Superior Court, Andres Velo, 18, denied charges of possession of a destructive device, possession of a destructive device in a home and possession of ingredients to make a destructive device, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
He was ordered back to court Oct. 28 for a preliminary hearing, she said. In the meantime, authorities are holding Velo in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Police arrested Velo Saturday afternoon, about three hours after his sister showed up at the El Monte Police Department and reported finding a bomb she said her brother had assembled at a home in the 2800 block of Nevada Avenue, police officials said. She brought the device with her in her car, prompting officials to cordon off the area while a bomb squad detonated the bomb.
Police arrested Velo when he returned home, police added.
No information was available regarding why Velo allegedly made the pipe bomb, or what he may have planned to do with it.
If convicted as charged, Velo faces up seven years and eight months in state prison.

PHOTO of Andres Velo courtesy of the El Monte Police Department.

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Officials: Drunken driver crashes truck in El Monte during police chase; wife and children hurt

EL MONTE >> Police arrested an allegedly drunken driver early Sunday after he led police on a chase from Baldwin Park to El Monte with his wife and children in his pickup truck, ultimately crashing and seriously injuring two family members, authorities said.
Saul Capetillo, a 27-year-old parolee from Los Angeles, is accused of drunken driving, evading police, child endangerment and hit-and-run following the pursuit, which began about 1:34 a.m., Baldwin Park police Sgt. Shawn Blackburn said.
Capetillo’s wife and 6-year-old daughter were critically injured in the crash, the sergeant said. The young girl was thrown from the wreckage. No one inside the truck was wearing a seat-belt.
He and his 9-year-old son remained hospitalized Sunday afternoon with injured not believed to be life-threatening, Blackburn said.
The chase began when an officer tried to stop Capetillo’s Chevrolet pickup truck for driving recklessly in 13300 block of Ramona Boulevard, the sergeant said. The truck quickly made a U-turn and sped away.
The truck crashed into another car at Ramona Boulevard and Francisquito Avenue before continuing on into El Monte, Blackburn said. The woman at the wheel of the car suffered apparently minor injuries.
Police continued chasing the pickup truck as it crashed into about six parked cars at Gillman Road near Kerrwood Place, officials said.
“It went airborne and flipped,” Blackburn said, throwing the young girl from the wreckage and brining the pursuit to an end.
Capetillo, who is already on parole following a previous felony conviction, was yet to be booked Sunday afternoon as he remained hospitalized.

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