UPDATED: Whittier man killed in El Monte motorcycle crash


EL MONTE — A motorcyclist from Whittier died Friday after a collision with a minivan in El Monte Friday afternoon, officials said.
The crash took place just after 2:30 p.m. at Lower Azusa Road and La Madera Avenue, El Monte police Lt. Michael Goodwin said.
The motorcyclist, 48, suffered major injuries in the crash, he said.
Coroner’s officials withheld the man’s name Saturday pending positive identification and notification of family members, officials said.
Paramedics took the man to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 11 p.m., El Monte police lt. Ben Lowry said.
The cause and circumstance of the crash remained under investigation.
Officials said the driver of the minivan appeared uninjured.

PHOTO by Phillip Casteneda

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UPDATED: More than five tons of fireworks seized from Pico Rivera business


PICO RIVERA — Investigators seized well over five tons of illegal fireworks Thursday from a Pico Rivera neighborhood, authorities said.
Firefighters were first summoned about 12:50 p.m. to keep watch over the potentially explosive contraband, which was found in the 4700 block of Citrus Drive, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Keith Mora said.
The fireworks were found at a business called Thomas Brothers Tube Bending, according to Lt. Christopher Williams of the El Monte Police Department, which spearheaded the investigation.
“Detectives received information about the illegal fireworks being sold at this location,” Williams said. “Once on scene, detectives discovered illegal fireworks inside a trailer and multiple storage containers.”
Police arrested two men, described as the business owner and an employee, but withheld their names Thursday as the investigation continued, Williams said.
The estimate of the amount of fireworks at the business continued to grow through the afternoon, as police and firefighters filled three trucks with fireworks, and began working on a fourth.
“We’re approaching five tons,” Williams said.
Police began their investigation in May, he added.
“Our concern is this, the operation was going on so long, and brazen,” Williams said.
Prospective illegal fireworks buyers stopped by the business as police continued working there.
“Detectives who are on scene are being approached by customers attempting to buy the illegal fireworks, while we are dismantling the operation,” he said.
In some cases, would-be customers approached detectives wearing informal police uniforms, Williams said.
Officials expected to remain at the business well into the afternoon as investigators and firefighters loaded up the fireworks to take them to secure, secret location.
Only fireworks designated “Safe and Sane” are permitted in Pico Rivera, as well as El Monte, during the Independence Day holiday.
The fireworks seized Thursday did not meet that standard, Williams said. “This is all the illegal, dangerous stuff, non-State Fire Marshal approved.”

PHOTO courtesy of the El Monte Police Department

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Woman suspected of DUI after crash that critically injured passenger in El Monte

Police suspected drunken driving in connection with a crash that left a man critically injured early Saturday in El Monte, authorities said.
The two-vehicle smash-up took place about 2:30 a.m. at Valley Mall and Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte police Lt. Ben Lowry said.
Initial investigation indicated a Scion being driven by an allegedly intoxicated woman ran through a red light, colliding in the intersection with a Toyota SUV, the lieutenant said.
The driver of the Scion, whose name was not available pending medical treatment and booking, suffered injuries not believed to be life-threatening in the crash, Lowry said. Her passenger, described only as a man, was critically injured.
It’s an ongoing investigation, but drunk driving is suspected,” Lowry said.
A woman who was driving the Toyota SUV complained of pain, but was not believed to have suffered major injuries, Lowey said.
The intersection remained shut down until about 8 a.m. as police investigated the scene.

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San Gabriel Valley police, firefighters to square off on basketball court in Arcadia to help the Special Olympics

2014 Battle of the Badges

San Gabriel Valley police officers will take on their fire department counterparts on the basketball court in Arcadia this weekend as the annual Battle of the Badges tournament returns bigger than ever to raise money for the Special Olympics.
The series of games will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the gymnasium of Arcadia High School, 180 Campus Drive in Arcadia, organizers said in a written statement. The cost of admission will be a “donation of your choosing,” and proceeds will benefit the Special Olympics Southern California.
In addition to the action on the court, there will be jumpers for children, refreshments, a SWAT demonstration, historical vehicles, a fire truck and gaming booths set up by Dave & Buster’s, Arcadia police Detective Walter Ashby said. An iPad Air will also be raffled off.
“One-hundred percent of the proceeds are donated directly to the Special Olympics,” he said.
San Gabriel police officers will take on San Gabriel firefighters at 10 a.m.; Alhambra police will play Alhambra firefighters at noon; El Monte police will take on Upland firefighters at 2 p.m.; Pasadena police will play Pasadena firefighters at 4 p.m.; and Arcadia police officers and firefighters will face off on the court at 6 p.m.
For more information, contact Detective Ashby at 626-821-2654, or email washby@ci.arcadia.ca.us.

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El Monte man sentenced to 50 years to life for molesting girlfriend’s young daughter

EL MONTE >> A Pomona Superior Court Judge sentenced an El Monte man to 50 years to life in prison Wednesday for sexually molesting his girlfriend’s young daughter in 2012, authorities said.
A jury convicted Miguel Angel Lomeli, 43, on April 4 of two counts of sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child 10 years old or younger, two counts of oral copulation or sexual penetration with a foreign object with a child 10 years old or younger, one count of forcible lewd act on a child and one count of an attempted lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 years old, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“The prosecutor said Lomeli dated the victim’s mother for a short time before moving into her home,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Evidence presented at trial revealed that Lomeli sexually assaulted the victim between June and November, 2012.”
El Monte police investigators arrested Lomeli Nov. 15, 2012, according to officials and Los Angeles County booking records. He remained in custody pending his trial, conviction and sentencing.

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El Monte High School Lions pay tribute to classmate killed in tour bus crash

EL MONTE >> A steady stream of El Monte High School Lions stopped by a memorial in front of the campus Saturday to light candles and pay their respects to classmate Adrian Castro, who lost his life along with nine other people in a fiery bus crash in Orland while en route to tour his prospective college.
The 18-year-old El Monte High School senior is unaccounted after a FedEx truck collided head-on with a tour bus containing 44 Southern California high school students, three adult chaperones and a driver. His family members have said they’ve been informed he is among the dead, though officials identification through Glenn County coroner’s officials was pending.
Five students, the three chaperones, the bus driver and the truck driver all died following the crash. The bus was on a trip to bring underrepresented Southern California High School seniors to visit the campus of Humboldt State University.

2014-04-12 14.39.54Friends recalled Castro as a popular, outgoing and loyal young man as they lit candles, left flowers and wrote messages to the young man. Monster energy drinks, a baseball glove, beer, baseball caps and other mementos also lined the sidewalk in front of El Monte High School, where Castro played football and baseball.
“He had a very bright personality,” said Robert Medina, a junior who transferred this year from El Monte High School to Mountain View High School.
“He used to back everyone up,” Medina said. “His thing was, since we’re all Lions, we’re all a family.”
Though Medina said he and others initially held out hope for a miracle, that Castro would be found alive, he said he’s accepted that his friend is gone.
“He’s in a very better place,” Medina said.
Friend Bryana Ruiz, said Castro was a good friend.
“He was just a great student. Everyone loved him, everyone knew he was. Not because he was popular, but for what he was doing and what he wanted to accomplish in life,” Ruiz said. “We all just loved him and we’re all going to miss him a lot. He was always number one in our hearts.”
Some visitors at the memorial knew Castro well. Others had not met him, but nonetheless wanted to show their support for his family and their classmates.
El Monte High School freshman Andres Huerta stopped by to light a candle at the sidewalk memorial.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know him,” he said. But he said he still felt compelled to visit the school Saturday, “to pay my respects to the family.”
“Lions stick together,” Huerta added.
— Staff Writer John McCoy contributed to this report.


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El Monte police to collect unwanted prescription drugs

EL MONTE — El Monte police will be collecting residents’ unwanted prescription medications this month for safe disposal, officials said.
Unused or expired drugs can be turned in from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 26 in the rear parking lot of the El Monte Police Department, 11333 Valley Boulevard, El Monte police officials said in a written statement.
For more information, El Monte police can be reached at 626-580-2100.

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Police: No policy violations in fatal shooting of El Monte family’s German shepherd



EL MONTE >> More than nine months after police walked passed “beware of dog” signs, entered an El Monte family’s front yard and then fatally shot the family’s pet German shepherd when it charged at one of the officers, El Monte police have announced an internal investigation found no wrongdoing or policy violations on the part of the involved officers.
Detective Arlen Castillo and then-officer Ken Fraser, who has since been promoted to the rank of sergeant, responded to the home in the 4700 block of Maxson Road in El Monte on the afternoon of June 19 to collect a photograph of the teenage son of Cathy Luu and Chi Nguyen, whom they had previously reported had run away from home. The boy came home a short time later.
Video footage of the incident captured by the family’s home surveillance system depicts Fraser casually open a gate and enter the family’s front yard, followed closely by Castillo. The officers stood in front of the family’s front door before the family’s pet pit bull approached Fraser, and he petted the dog.
The family’s 2-year-old German shepherd then emerged from the back yard of the home, began barking and charged toward Castillo, who was standing at the home’s front door. Castillo shot and wounded the dog.
“The full incident was investigated, including both officers’ actions, with no sustained policy violations found,” El Monte Police Chief Steven Schuster said in an email.
Both Castillo and Fraser remain on active duty, police officials added.
“The El Monte Police Department has strict policies in place that describe the procedures in place to protect residents’ pets,” Schuster said. “This was an unfortunate and isolated situation in which, upon responding to a call from the residents asking for police assistance, the officers felt that their safety was compromised due to the dog.”
In a written statement, police officials said the department remains “committed to continued development” of policies regarding encounters between officers and dogs.
The department has “already integrated these procedures into our officer training,” according to the statement. No specific examples were given.
Following the shooting, police officials said the officers noted the “beware of dog” signs, shook the fence and looked around for the presence of dogs before entering the family’s yard.
But the video tape depicts the officers arriving in their patrol car, then opening the gate and entering the yard without breaking stride.
Schuster acknowledged the “discrepancy” between the account provided by the officers and the video of the incident, but the department found no policy violation on the part of the officers.
“The initial statement included information that was known to the reporting officer at the time, which was prior to knowledge of video evidence,” the Chief said. “As we learned about the discrepancy, we corrected the statement to the media and public and asked for the original video file to assist in our investigation. We completed a full investigation on this matter, and determined there were no sustained violations.”
In addition to the death of their dog, family members also initially complained of the manner in which they were treated after their dog was shot.
Police immediately seemed to begin investigating the family, demanding to see license paperwork for the wounded animal and other dogs at the home before providing veterinary help, family members said at the time. The video shows the dog lying wounded for more than an hour before being picked up by animal control officials.
Police also initially promised to pay for the dog’s medical care, but rescinded the offer after learning of the $7,000 price tag for the medical procedures, Luu said. The dog was eventually euthanized.
“We have apologized to the family numerous times for the loss of their beloved pet and we have worked with the family to try to rectify the situation,” Schuster said.
El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said he empathized with the family and hoped police would use the incident, “as a learning experience.”
“It’s my understanding that they did review their policies and make sure going forward there’s additional training,” the mayor said. He added he was concerned about both the safety of residents’ pets, as well as the safety of police officers.
“I’m hoping, on a moving forward basis, that we’re going to be able to have no more incidents like this.”
Quintero said he was satisfied with the internal police investigation into the shooting.
“I believe they did review all the different aspects that they could,” he said.
Luu said she did not wish to comment on the findings Friday.
Mayor Quintero said he and then-acting city manager and current Assistant City Manager Jesus Gomez has met with the family and listened to their concerns.
“They were very kind, very gracious,” he said.
The family has not filed a claim against the city or the police department seeking damages.
Nonetheless, Quintero said, if the family was interested in getting a new dog, “I would do whatever I could to make sure that happened. I think everyone at city hall empathizes with the loss of a pet in those circumstances. Not a replacement, but a new pet to help them heal.”


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Investigation continues in fatal shooting of Whittier man in El Monte

EL MONTE >> Detectives continue seeking clues in the mysterious slaying of a Whittier man who was shot to death while sitting in a car with his girlfriend over the weekend.
Simon Mendoza, 40, died at the scene of Saturday’s 12:32 a.m. shooting in a residential neighborhood in the 1300 block of Medina Court in El Monte, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
The Whittier resident, who held three jobs, was sitting in the driver seat of his car and talking with his girlfriend just prior to the fatal shooting, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The car was parked near the girlfriend’s home.
“She hears a tapping on the driver-side side window,” Hernandez said. “Shortly after the tapping, she hears several gunshots.”
Bullets struck Mendoza several times in the “upper torso,” the lieutenant said. The woman was not struck by gunfire, but was injured by shattered glass.
No words were exchanged before the shots were fired, he said.
“It happened quickly,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t have any time to react, and definitely didn’t have any time to defend himself.”
The shooter, described only as male, then fled the scene, Hernandez said.
A compact car was seen speeding away, though it was not clear Wednesday whether that car was involved in the shooting, he added.
No further details regarding the circumstances was known Wednesday.
A motive in the slaying was yet to be established.
“We’re still working the leads we have,” Hernandez said. “The detectives have been working diligently on it since it occurred.”
Neither Mendoza nor his girlfriend were believed to have gang ties, Hernandez said. But the area where the shooting occurred is known to be frequented by local gang members.
Friends and family members could not be reached for comment. A manager at an IHOP restaurant in Rosemead said Mendoza had worked there for two years and he was saddened by the shooting. He added that coworkers were rallying to help Mendoza’s family.
Mendoza’s Facebook profiles indicates he was a father.
Photos posted on the profiles show him smiling with neat, short-cropped hair, a mustache and wearing silver-colored cross necklace.
Sheriff’s homicide detectives are assisting El Monte police with the investigation, and anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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1 arrested, 15 cited at El Monte police checkpoint

EL MONTE — Police screened 1,208 drivers during a sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint, yielding one arrest, 15 citations and three vehicle impounds, authorities said.
The checkpoint took place late Friday into early Saturday along Ramona Boulevard at Gilman Road, on the city’s eastern border,El Monte police Lt. Eric Stanley said.
One person was arrested on suspicion of a narcotics violation, the lieutenant said.
Two drivers were given sobriety tests at the checkpoint, but neither was ultimately arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving, he added.
Police cited 15 people for driving without a license, Stanley said. Three cars were impounded, while 13 were released at the checkpoint to licensed drivers.

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