EL MONTE >> Homicide detectives and distraught family members sought the public’s help Thursday in finding the masked gunman who fatally shot a 25-year-old El Monte man during a failed robbery at the fast food restaurant where he worked.
Juan Manuel Vidal turned 25 less than two weeks before the deadly Oct. 21 shooting at Jack in the Box, 9220 Flair Drive.
He had just graduated pharmacy school and was looking forward to starting a new career and a new life with his fiancee and high school sweetheart, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators and family members.
But his life was cut short when a would-be robber jumped over the restaurant counter where he was working, demanded money from the cash register and immediately fired a gunshot, according to Detective Adan Torres of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. The killer remains at large.
Video: Detective Adan Torres discusses the fatal shooting
“He was my life and he’s gone now, and I don’t know why anyone would do this to him,” Vidal’s fiancee, Juliana Sasaki said through tears.
His mother, Mary Smay, said her son was a kind and loving man and urged anyone with information about the killer to come forward.
“If anybody knows who did this, who took my son from me, you need to turn him in,” she said. “He’s taken my life. He’s taken my son away,” she said.
“He left to work. I sit on the couch and I think he’s going to just come back,” Smay said.
Video: Victim’s mother pleads for help her son’s killer
Vidal’s killer remains at large, and detectives released surveillance video footage of the crime on Thursday in hopes of generating tips from the public.
Vidal was working as a cashier at the restaurant when the gunman entered wearing a mask and brandishing a revolver, Torres said.
The gunman jumped the counter, demanded money, pointed the gun at Vidal and immediately opened fire, officials said.
“It was so quick, he didn’t even have a chance to react,” the detective said.
The would-be robber then jumped back over the counter and fled from the restaurant empty-handed.
The killer got into a waiting getaway car, described only as a dark-colored sedan, which drove away, Torres said. Detectives suspected he may have had an accomplice serving as a getaway driver.
The robber wore some type of mask over the top portion of his face which included a thick fake mustache and a large nose.
He also wore a light-blue long-sleeve T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts and black running shoes and a blue baseball cap with a vinyl or plastic brim.
Vidal grew up in El Monte and attended Arroyo High School, where he met his fiancee, Sasaki said.
He loved classic cars and enjoyed spending time working on his vehicles, she said.
“He was always so kind,” she said. “Everyone loved him. Even when he had nothing, he was always willing to help.”
Having recently graduated school as a pharmacy technician and receiving a job offer, “He was going to quit his job and start planning everything,” the fiancee said. The couple had yet to set a wedding date.
Vidal maintained a close relationship with his mother.
“He would be proud to say I was his mom, just like I was proud to say he was my son,” Smay said. “He was a kind, loving man. But to me, he’s always going to be by boy.”
Anyone with information is urged to call 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.
Funds to help Vidal’s family are being collected online at www.gofundme.com/2vh4f5w.
PHOTOS [ABOVE] Juan Manuel Vidal, 25, of El Monte (courtesy). [BELOW] Family members and LASD homicide detectives ask the public for help in finding the killer of Juan Vidal on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Staff photo by Brian Day)
EL MONTE >> Authorities on Wednesday formally identified an El Monte man shot to death in a botched robbery at a fast food restaurant over the weekend as detectives continue gathering clues in the senseless killing.
Juan Manuel Vidal, 25, died at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center less than 30 minutes after the shooting, which took place about 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Jack in the Box restaurant where he worked at 9220 Flair Drive, according to Ed Winter, assistant chief of operation at the Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
The deadly failed robbery occurred very quickly, Lt. Mike Rosson of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
“It was just seconds. (The killer) was in and out,” he said.
It did not appear Vidal put up any resistance to the robbery attempt, the lieutenant said. “I don’t even think he had time.”
The gunman entered the business, jumped over the counter to the employee are of the store, brandished a handgun and announced that he was robbing the store, Rosson said.
Almost immediately, he pulled the trigger of his gun, mortally wounding Vidal.
Rosson said the gunman, who wore a Halloween mask, then fled from the restaurant empty-handed.
The restaurant sits just a few hundred yards from onramps to the 10 Freeway.
The gunman was believed to have gotten into a getaway car, but investigators were continuing to sort out conflicting descriptions of the vehicle, Rosson said.
Detectives were also sifting through “hours and hours” of surveillance camera footage from the restaurant as well as other nearby businesses in hopes of generating a suspect description, he said.
An excerpt from surveillance footage depicting the suspect was expected to be released by investigators during a press conference on Thursday.
Two other employees were working with Vidal at the time of the fatal shooting, Rosson said. One of them was on break and outside the building. The position of the other employee within the store was unclear.
The customer dining area inside the restaurant was empty when the botched robbery and fatal shooting took place.
Detectives suspected the fatal shooting was committed by a panicked or possibly intoxicated robber, and there was no indication that Vidal was specifically targeted, Rosson said.
Vidal turned 25 less than two weeks before the fatal shooting.
Vidal, “had a promising future,” according to Deputy Lillian Peck of the sheriff’s Information Bureau. He was engaged to be married and had recently graduated as a pharmacy technician at the time of his slaying.
He was a Volkswagen enthusiast and member of the DubFolks SoCal car club, according to the organizations Facebook page, where fellow members memorialized him and organized fundraisers to help his family. A car wash is planned for 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at outside Carl’s Jr., 18237 Colima Road in Rowland Heights. A meet-up and memorial ride are planned for noon on Saturday,. starting at Cal State Los Angeles’s Parking Structure C.
A fund to help his family with services has been established online at www.gofundme.com/2vh4f5w.
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.
EL MONTE >> A masked gunman shot and killed a 25-year-old fast food worker during what was believed to be a botched robbery at an El Monte Jack in the Box restaurant late Friday, authorities said.
The deadly shooting took place about 7:30 p.m. at the chain restaurant at 9220 Flair Drive, according to El Monte police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who are assisting El Monte police in the investigation.
The suspect, who fled empty-handed following the apparent robbery attempt, remained at large Saturday.
Authorities withheld the identity of the victim pending positive identification and notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator Joyce Kato said.
“An armed, masked male entered the business and immediately jumped over the front service counter, where the victim was standing, in an apparent armed robbery attempt,” Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
“The suspect turned toward the victim and fired at least one shot, which struck the victim in the upper torso. The suspect immediately jumped back over the counter and fled the location,” Rouzan said.
The gunman was last seen running north from the restaurant. No suspect description was available.
El Monte police arrived first on the scene and administered first aid before paramedics took over treatment, officials said. The wounded man was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A sign affixed to the door of the restaurant where the victim worked on Saturday indicated the businesses would be closed until Monday.
“RIP Juan. 2 Corinthians 5:8. Home with Jesus,” was handwritten on the sign.
The King James Version of the scripture reads, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
EL MONTE >> A man died after being shot during what was initially reported as a robbery at an El Monte fast food restaurant on Friday night, authorities said.
The fatal shooting was first reported as a robbery with a person down just before 8 p.m. at a Jack in the Box restaurant at 9220 Flair Drive, according to El Monte police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who are assisting El Monte police in the homicide investigation.
A victim, described only as a man, was taken to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, Deputy Jeffrey Gordon of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
No suspects were in custody, and no further details were available as detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau continued their investigation late Friday, officials said.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
LOS ANGELES >> Three gang members, including a “shot caller” who directed the gang on behalf of the Mexican Mafia, each received sentences of more than decade in prison stemming from a federal investigation targeting the El Monte Flores gang, authorities announced Friday.
Mexican Mafia shot caller James “Chemo” Gutierrez, 53, and EMF gang member Kenneth Cofer, 37, were sentenced Thursday to 15 years in federal prison each, while co-defendant and fellow EMF member John Rivera, 54, was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months behind bars, U.S. Department of Justice Spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
“We now have secured lengthy prison terms for key members of one of the oldest street gangs in Los Angeles County after using the federal racketeering statute to dismantle the organization’s leadership structure,” according to U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Eileen M. Decker.
But the fight against gangs continues.
“Even with significant gains made by law enforcement, street gangs remain one of the most dangerous criminal elements in the region and a significant contributor to violent crime,” Decker said. “We are committed, however, to restoring order in neighborhoods affected by the violence and drug trafficking perpetrated by street gangs like the El Monte Flores gang.”
Gutierrez and Cofer pleaded guilty in April to violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy to distribute drugs and conspiracy to launder money in connection with a 61-count indictment targeting 41 EMF members first unsealed in 2014.
Gutierrez served as a “shot caller,” directing activities of EMF at the behest of the Mexican Mafia.
Gutierrez acknowledged in his plea that he regularly extorted “taxes” from drug dealers operating in EMF’s claimed territory, and had authorized an attack on a rival gang member, Mrozek said. Prosecutors noted he has a lengthy criminal history, including a racketeering-related murder convictions that resulted in a 20-year prison sentence.
Gutierrez served a “pivotal role in the gang’s drug distribution, extortion, and violent activity,” according to the prosecution’ sentencing memorandum. Prosecutors described Gutierrez as the lead defendant in the case.
In addition the RICO and conspiracy charges, Cofer also pleaded guilty to an additional charge of possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, Mrozek said.
Cofer admitted to managing and supervising the gang’s extortion and drug trafficking, including directing the use of violence on behalf of the gang, according to Mrozek. He admitted to authorizing the shooting of someone who had been involved in a dispute with a fellow gang member.
Rivera pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and conspiracy distribute drugs.
Thirty-one of the 41 gang members names in the 2014 indictment have pleaded guilty in connection with the case, Mrozek said.
Gutierrez admitted to
Prosecutors claimed EMF was holding meeting and selling drugs from the Boys & Girls Club on Mountain View Road, which was closed a month after the indictment against the gang was unsealed.
In a related case, another EMF member, 30-year-old Christian “Bossy” Lafargo, was sentenced to 17-and-a-half years in federal prison in May after admitting to charges including conspiracy, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, committing violent crime in aid of racketeering and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
IRWINDALE >> An El Monte woman wanted for an alleged cigarette lighter attack on her ex-boyfriend last month led Irwindale police on a short pursuit before being taken into custody early Thursday, officials said.
Jessica Magaly Ruvalcaba, 20, was booked on suspicion of felony domestic violence, evading a police officer, drunken driving and driving on a suspended license, according to Irwindale police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
The chase began about 9:40 a.m. when an Irwindale officer spotted a gray Ford Mustang speeding at Irwindale Avenue and First Street and tried to pull it over, Irwindale police Sgt. George Zendejas said.
“(Ruvalcaba) failed to yield and led officers on a pursuit that terminated approximately one mile later in the area of Cypress Street and Irwindale Avenue,” police said in a written statement. Ruvalcaba stopped her car and surrendered.
A woman riding as a passenger in the Mustang was questioned and released, police said.
While the chase was ongoing, the pursuing officer recognized the description of the Mustang from a previous call he had handled several weeks ago, Zendejas said.
Ruvalcaba had been sought since Sept. 9, when she burned her ex-boyfriend with a cigarette lighter during an argument that took place in the same car, also along Irwindale Avenue.
Ruvalcaba told her ex to get out of her car, Zendejas said. When he did not comply, she burned him in the upper body with a cigarette lighter.
The man was injured by declined to be taken to a hospital, the sergeant said. Ruvalcaba fled the scene before officers arrived.
According to county booking records, Ruvalcaba was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail at the Glendora Police Department’s jail pending her initial court appearance.
PHOTO Jessica Ruvalcaba, 20, of El Monte. (Courtesy, El Monte Police Department)
EL MONTE >> Police in El Monte plan to step enforcement of traffic violations related to pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Tuesday, officials said.
During the Bike & Pedestrian Safety Enforcement Operation, officers will pay extra attention to violation that could contribute to collisions, injuries and deaths, whether on the part of motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, El Monte police Sgt. Jimmie Pitts said in a written statement.
“Special attention will be directed toward drivers speeding, making illegal turns, failing to stop for signs and signals, failing to yield to pedestrians in cross walks or any other dangerous violation,” he said.
“Additionally, enforcement will be taken for observed violations when pedestrians cross the street illegally or fail to yield to drivers who have the right of way. Bike riders will be stopped and citations issued when they fail to follow the same traffic laws that apply to motorists.”
Funding for the operation is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
EL MONTE >> The El Monte police department launched its “Service Area Policing” program this week, dividing the city into four separate quadrants, in an effort to streamline communication between the city and the community and more efficiently address specific problems and issues within the city.
Under the Service Area Policing program, which began Wednesday, the city has been divided into four geographical area, with police services for each overseen by a dedicated service area lieutenant, El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso said.
“Service area policing is becoming the industry standard for many police departments in the region,” the chief said. “It’s another tool to help us communicate with the public, learn their concerns and provide the best service we can.”
The program does not replace the traditional 9-1-1 system for emergencies, but it designed to help residents and business people deal with “chronic” quality of life issues, ranging from graffiti and speeding vehicles to code violations and public health issues.
The program helps police make more efficient use of resources to place them where they be the most effective, police said in a written statement.
“The Service Area Commanders have all of the resources of the police department available to them to address the needs of the community. Streamlining and utilizing resources in such a manner is a way to bypass our limitations,” according to the statement.
Even if the issue is not a police matter, police can work with citizens to notify the proper agency about their concerns, Reynoso said.
“Any community concern is our concern,” he added. And serice area commanders will work closely with other local agencies, such as public works, parks and recreation and the city council.
“Each entity offers its own distinct perspective toward the accomplishment of a solution towards the betterment of our city,” the polcie statement said. “This cultural change must migrate to all areas of the city and become part of the cultural norm our residents and businesses expect to be successful.
Under the program, the city of more than 115,000 people is divided into four areas, with the 10 Freeway serving as the boundary between the north and south, and Peck Road serving as the boundary between east and west.
Service Area 1, the northwest quadrant, is headed by Lt. Richard Cassetta, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Service Area 2, consisting of the city’s northeast quadrant, is supervised by Lt. Ben Lowry, who can be reached at email@example.com. Service Area 3, made up of the city’s southwest quadrant, is headed by Lt. Ernie Cramer, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Service Area 4, at the southeast corner of the city, is supervised by Lt. Peter Rasic, who can be reached at email@example.com.
All of the Service Area commanders can be reached by telephone at 626-580-2109.
“The program is built around a partnership between police and the community, Reynoso said.
“The success of this program depends on our cooperation,” he said.
PHOTOS: [Left to right] El Monte police Service Area 1 Lt. Richard Cassetta; El Monte police Service Area 2 Lt. Ben Lowry; El Monte police Service Area 3 Lt. Ernie Cramer; El Monte police Service Area 4 Lt. Pete Rasic. (Courtesy)
BALDWIN PARK >> An El Monte man already condemned to spend life behind bars received a new sentence of 86 years to life in state prison on Tuesday for the fatal shooting of a rival gang member on Christmas Eve in 2010, prosecutors said.
Johnny Mata, 35, who has also been convicted of a second, non-fatal gang shooting in Baldwin Park in 2012, spent more than a year as a fugitive after he was accidentally released from jail in 2013 while awaiting trial, then recaptured in Mexico in Mexico.
A jury Convicted Johnny Mata, 35, guilty last month of two felony counts of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in the fatal shooting of 31-year-old David Deanda Jr., Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said. Jurors also found true the special, sentence-enhancing allegation that the killing was gang-related.
Co-defendant Jesus Arroyo Lule, 35, pleaded “no contest” in 2014 to a felony count of voluntary manslaughter for Deanda’s slaying and is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Pomona Branch.
Lule drove Mata to rival gang territory in the 13200 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park. Baldwin Park in the predawn hours of Dec. 24, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“Once there, Mata exited the car and walked up to a house where David Deanda Jr., 31 was standing in the driveway,” according to the statement. “Mata then fatally shot Deanda in the torso before fleeing the scene, the prosecutor added.
Mata exited the car and walked up to Deanda Jr. who was standing in the driveway of a residence, Barkhurst said. Mata then fatally shot Deanda in the torso before fleeing the scene.
A third defendant, then-27-year-old Christina Montenegro, was initially charged in connection with the 2012 shooting, but the charges were ultimately dropped.
Deanda, who worked as a welder, was survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter, according to family.
Prior to being arrested
In April 2012, Mata shot at the home of another rival gang member in Baldwin Park, and was found guilty of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in a 2015 trial. He was sentenced to life, plus 25 years, in state prison for those crimes. But the jury deadlocked on the murder charge stemming from Deanda’s fatal shooting, leading to a second trial.
Following his initial arrest in May of 2012 in connection with the Baldwin Park slaying, Mata spent more than a year on the lam after he as accidentally released due to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department clerical error.
He was re-captured in April of 2014 in Mexico and returned to the U.S. to face justice.
Following Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Mata is now serving a total sentence of life in prison, plus 111 years to life in prison.
PHOTO: Johnny Mata of El Monte, (Courtesy)
EL MONTE >> A motorcyclist killed in a freeway crash in El Monte on Friday afternoon has been identified as a 51-year-old West Covina man, officials said Saturday.
Albert Max Escobedo died in the 3:10 p.m. crash on the 10 Freeway, east of Peck Road, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
Escobedo was riding a 2005 Suzuki motorcycle in the westbound lanes of traffic just prior to the crash, according to Officer M. Vargas of the California Highway Patrol’s East Los Angeles area office.
“For reasons still under investigation, the rider lost control of his vehicle and collided into the concrete jersey wall,” Vargas said in a written statement. “The rider was ejected from the motorcycle.
Escobedo was thrown into eastbound traffic lanes, where he was struck by three vehicles, officials said.
Paramedics pronounced Escobedo dead at the scene.
None of the other drivers were hurt in the collision, Vargas said. The crash remained under investigation.
Any witnesses are encouraged to contact the CHP’s East Los Angeles area office at 323-980-4600.