HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A fire engulfed a big rig and spread to a hillside, prompting the closure of the 60 Freeway before firefighters got it under control, authorities said.
The fire was first reported as a flaming big rig about 4:30 p.m. alongside the eastbound 60 Freeway near Crossroads Parkway, according to California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials.
The flames destroyed the truck and spread to brush on a hillside next to the freeway before firefighters attacked it both on the ground and from aircraft.
The fire scorched about half an acre of brush before firefighters declared it “under control” at 5:25 p.m,, fire department Dispatch Supervisor Melanie Flores said.
Authorities initially shut down all lanes of the 60 in both directions as they responded to the fire.
The westbound lanes were reopened within an hour, and only the two right-hand lanes of the eastbound 60 Freeway remained closed Thursday evening.
No injuries were reported, Flores said.
LOS ANGELES >> The owner of nightclubs in Pico Rivera and Moreno Valley who admitted laundering drug money for foreign drug traffickers through his businesses received a two-year prison sentence on Thursday, officials said.
Edgar Fragoso, 39, of Hacienda Heights was sentenced to 24 months in custody, with one year to be served behind bars, and another year of home detention, U.S. DOJ spokesman Thom Mrozek said. U.S. District Judge George Wu also ordered Fragoso to pay a $14,000 fine and agreed to give up his liquor license.
Fragoso owned the El Rodeo nightclubs, formerly at 8825 Washington Blvd., as well as another location in Moreno Valley.
Fragoso agreed to plead guilty in August of 2015 to a single count of money laundering.
Prosecutors allege Fragoso laundered more than $35,000 from methamphetamine sales for a drug dealer operating out of Mexico, and also collected $200,000 in payments from undercover federal agents posing as members of a drug-trafficking organization, according to the indictment.
Prior to reaching a plea deal, Fragoso was initially indicted on one count of conspiracy to launder money and seven counts of money laundering. He pleaded “not guilty” to the charges at his arraignment in March of 2015.
All but the single count of money laundering was dismissed under the plea arrangement.
If convicted as charged, Fragoso could have faced up to 20 years in federal prison for each of the eight counts on which he was indicted.
The two-year sentence handed down Thursday was only a fraction of the 25 years in prison Fragoso could have faced as a maximum penalty.
The reasoning behind the sentence was unclear Friday, as the sentencing memorandum in the case had been filed under seal, Mrozek said.
LA HABRA >> A La Habra man died late Friday following a crash between his motorcycle and a pickup truck on Harbor Boulevard in a La Habra, police said.
Dominic Alvarez, 26, died at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Anta less than three hours after the crash, which took place at 9:02 p.m. on Harbor Boulevard, just south of Whittier Boulevard, according to Orange County coroner’s records.
He was riding a motorcycle was involved in a collision with a pickup truck, La Habra police Sgt. Jeff Baylos said.
Two women who were riding as passengers in the pickup truck were treated for apparently minor injuries, officials said. The driver of the pickup, described only as male, was unhurt.
The cause and circumstances of the crash remained under investigation, officials said.
Anyone with information was urged to contact the La Habra Police Department’s Traffic Unit at 562-383-4300.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Deputies arrested a teen Sunday after he allegedly robbed a fruit vendor at gunpoint outside a Hacienda Heights diner before being involved in a hit-and-run car crash minutes later.
The robbery took place about 12:25 p.m. in the parking lot of Denny’s, 1150 S, 7th Ave., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Rico Sandoval said.
The 16-year-old suspect approached a vendor selling fruit, brandished a handgun and demanded money, the sergeant said.
After obtaining the cash, the robber got into a light-colored sedan and drove off.
Shortly after the robbery, deputies discovered an abandoned car matching the basic description of the car used in the robbery about 3 miles away in the area of Fairgrove and Broadmoor avenues in an unincorporated county area just outside of La Puente, officials said. It had crashed into a wall, and four people were seen running away.
All four were eventually found and detained during an hour-long search of the surrounding neighborhoods, official said. The 16-year-old boy was identified as the robbery suspect.
A handgun was recovered from inside the car, Sandoval added. Deputies also recovered some, but not all, of the suspected stolen money.
The other three people detained after fleeing from the car were not ultimately arrested, as they were not linked to the robbery, he said.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Deputies are seeking an attacker show shot a man in the back as he walked down the street in Hacienda Heights early Thursday, officials said.
The shooting took place about 12:10 a.m. on Gale Avenue near Valencia Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Abel Moreno said.
The victim, a man in his 30s, suffered injuries not believed to be life-threatening, he said.
“He was walking on Gale. He heard what appeared to be a gunshot and felt pain to his lower back,” Moreno said.
The wounded man did not see where the shot came from and no suspect description was available, the sergeant said. The motive in the attack was unclear.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A man who died following a minor solo-vehicle traffic accident in Hacienda Heights early Saturday appeared to have suffered a medical condition prior to losing control of his minivan, officials said.
California Highway Patrol officers responded to Pepper Brook Way, at Wedgeworth Drive, just after 9 a.m., after a Toyota Sienna minivan struck a roadside sign, CHP Officer Stephan Brandt said.
The collision damage appeared minor, however the driver was in medical distress, he said.
Paramedics took the man, who was estimated to be in his 60s, to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
The incident is being investigated by the CHP’s Santa Fe Springs area office.
LOS ANGELES >> A Hacienda Heights man began serving a two-and-a-half-year prison term after he was sentenced for his role in a scheme that netted more than $2.6 million in bogus tax returns using stolen identities, authorities said.
Heber Cotton, 40, pleaded guilty late last year to a count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government by obtaining the payment of fraudulent tax refunds, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. U.S. District Judge Michael W. Firzgerald handed down the 30-month prison term Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.
Cotton was additionally ordered to pay $725,000 in restitution.
His father and co-conspirator, 64-year-old Adel Cotton, pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2012 and has since been sentenced to 4 years and three months in federal prison, officials said.
“This father and son pair prolifically defrauded the government and hundreds of taxpayers, earning them the significant sentences imposed by the court,” according to United States Attorney for the Central District of California Eileen M. Decker.
From December of 2008 to March of 2010, “the Cottons caused at least 275 fraudulent income tax returns to be filed with the IRS,” Mrozek said. “Those fraudulent returns sought income tax refunds totaling more than $2.6 million.”
The father and son used the names and social security numbers of victims without their knowledge to fill out fraudulent tax returns, officials said. They instructed the refund checks to be sent to addressed they controlled.
Heber Cotton admitted in court documents that he gave stolen identity information to a co-conspirator, who worked as a bank manager, who opened bank accounts with the fraudulently obtained funds, in exchange for a 20 percent cut of each refund check.
The bank manager, identified in court documents as Michael Rodriguez, managed a U.S. Bank branch inside a Tustin supermarket, Mrozek said.
He has since pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the scheme and is awaiting sentencing.
“These unscrupulous defendants, a father and son team, thought they had figured out a clever scheme to thwart the IRS and steal from American taxpayers,” IRS Criminal Investigation’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony J. Orlando added. “IRS CI has made investigating refund fraud and identity theft a top priority and we will vigorously pursue those who undermine the integrity of the U.S. tax system.”
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A Los Angeles woman died early Thursday after her car slammed into the back of a big rig on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights, authorities said.
Kenoa Stewart, 36, was killed in the crash, according to Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
The collision took place at 4:11 a.m. on the eastbound 60 Freeway, just east of Seventh Avenue, Officer Jason Steward of the California Highway Patrol’s Santa Fe Springs-area office said.
The woman, later identified as Stewart, was driving a 2002 Saturn L100 east in the No. 3 lane just prior to the fatal collision, he said. A 2009 Volvo big rig was traveling directly in front of her.
“For reasons still under investigation, the driver of the Saturn collided into the right rear of a semi truck,” Steward said.
“The Saturn traveled out-of-control and became wedged underneath the right rear of the semi-trailer, between the No. 3 and No. 4 lanes.”
Paramedics pronounced Stweart dead at the scene at 4:35 a.m., Winter said.
The driver of the big rig, described as a 57-year-old La Puente man, suffered no injures, Steward added.
The crash remains under investigation, and anyone with information can reach the CHP’s Santa Fe Springs-area office at 562-868-0503.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A man accused of shooting his girlfriend to death in 2011 and dumping her body in Turnbull Canyon in Hacienda Heights before fleeing to Mexico appeared in a Pomona courthouse this week to answer to a murder charge, authorities said.
Francisco Nila Rojas, 39, of La Puente pleaded not guilty Tuesday in connection with the February 11, 2011, slaying of Claudia Tecuautzin, 41, of La Puente, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani. He’s also accused of the special allegation of personally using a gun in the crime.
“Rojas allegedly shot his girlfriend in the head and left her body near Turnbull Canyon Road and Skyline Drive in Hacienda Heights,” Ardalani said in a written statement.
Tecuautzin had been reported missing by her family before her body was discovered about 10 feet down an embankment in Turnbull Canyon, near Skyline Drive, on March 2, 2011, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials said. But due to the condition of her body, identification was delayed, and she was officially listed as a Jane Doe in the weeks following the slaying.
An autopsy found that Tecuautzin died from a gunshot wound to the head, and the death was ruled a homicide, coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
Rojas was quickly identified as the suspect in Tecuautzin’s slaying. Prosecutors filed a murder charge against him in April of 2011, Ardalani said.
But Rojas, a Mexican national, fled to Mexico shortly after the fatal shooting, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
He remained a fugitive for more than three years, but investigators never gave up searching for him.
Officials tracked him down in Mexico in 2014, where he was jailed for about a year before being extradited back to the Unites States to face trial in October of last year, Ardalani said.
Rojas and Tecuautzin first became acquainted about a year before the slaying, Corina said. Both worked for the same company vending snacks from push carts.
The co-workers began a romantic relationship several months before Tecuautzin vanished.
Worried family members reported her missing and began a search themselves, sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. A family member searching the area discovered remains, later identified as those of Tecuautzin.
Coroner’s officials worked until the following day to carefully collect the remains.
Homicide detectives and prosecutors declined to discuss the specific motive in the killing Wednesday.
Rojas was ordered back to court June 23 for a pre-preliminary hearing, according to district attorney’s officials. If convicted as charged, he faces up to 50 years to life in state prison.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Authorities and loved ones are reaching out to the public for help in finding a hit-and-run driver who struck and dragged 18-year-old college student in Hacienda Heights last weekend, then fled the scene.
Isabel Gonzalez of La Puente remained hospitalized Thursday with major injuries suffered after she was struck by a car about 11 p.m. Sunday along Gale Avenue, at Riderwood Lane, according to California Highway Patrol officials and family members. She has undergone four surgeries since the incident.
“This was a hit and run of a beautiful young lady that was crossing the street and was ran over, dragged, and was just left there,” Gonzalez’s aunt Lucy Solis said. “Isabel suffered major injuries and remains hospitalized at (Los Angeles County-)USC Medical Center.”
California Highway Patrol investigators, who are handling the investigation, were left with few leads to follow, Officer Al Perez said.
Perez said he could not confirm initial reports that the involved car was described as a silver 2013- or 2014-model Honda or Toyota.
Gonzalez was walking south across Gale Avenue when she was struck by a car in the westbound, right-hand lane, Perez said.
Gonzales was struck after she had just finished a shift at an area Olive Garden restaurant and was heading home along with her boyfriend, who also works at the restaurant, Solis said. The boyfriend was walking ahead of Gonzalez when she was struck.
Solis said her niece suffered injuries including a shattered pelvis, a fractures skull, broken ribs and internal bleeding.
Gonzalez’s leg was severely injured, and it was unclear whether she would walk again, thee aunt said. But she had not suffered brain damage.
Doctors removed a breathing tube Tuesday, and Gonzalez has been breathing on her own since, Solis said. The injured woman has drifted in and out of consciousness, though she remains heavily sedated. And family members were encouraged when Gonzales recently took a sip of water.
Gonzalez is a student at California State University, Los Angeles, where she is studying to be a translator on a scholarship, Solis said.
Officials and family members asked anyone with information to contact the CHP’s Santa Fe Springs area office at 562-868-0503 during business hours. After hours, tips may be submitted to the CHP at 800-835-5247.
Funds to help the family cover medical expenses are being collected online at www.gofundme.com/Isabel_Gonzalez.
PHOTOS: [LEFT] Isabel Gonzalez, 18, of La Puente, was struck and injured by a hit and run driver on Gale Avenue, east of 7th Avenue, in Hacienda Heights late Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. Photo undated. (Courtesy) [RIGHT] Isabel Gonzalez, 18, of La Puente, was struck and injured by a hit and run driver on Gale Avenue, east of 7th Avenue, in Hacienda Heights late Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. She’s pictured here at a hospital on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Courtesy)