Extra patrols planned on Angeles Crest Highway Saturday

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — California Highway Patrol officials will field extra officers on Angeles Crest Highway Saturday in an effort to combat motorcycle-related deaths and injuries, authorities said.
“This scenic drive attracts all types of motorists, including a special appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts of all calibers,” CHP officials said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the Angeles Crest Highway has become known for its disproportionately high rate of motorcycle collisions resulting in fatal injuries.”
The CHP recorded 10 motorcyclist deaths and 195 injuries on the highway between 2007 and 2009.
The extra enforcement campaign is being funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Closing arguments expected in La Canada Flintridge fatal big rig crash case

From the Associated Press:

PASADENA — Trial is winding down for a trucker charged with the deaths of a father and daughter killed by his runaway big rig in La Canada Flintridge.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office says closing arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon in Pasadena Superior Court in the murder and vehicular manslaughter trial of Marcos Costa.
Costa was hauling cars over the San Gabriel Mountains on April 1, 2009, when his brakes failed on the steep Angeles Crest Highway above La Canada Flintridge. The double-decker rig hit a car, killing Angel Posca and his daughter Angelina, of Palmdale, collided with four other vehicles and smashed into a bookstore and a nail salon, injuring three others.
Costa has maintained his innocence.

UPDATE: Two fatal crashes reported on recently reopened Angeles Crest Highway

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST — Two en died Friday in unrelated solo-car crashes on the same stretch of the recently reopened Angeles Crest Highway.
The crashes were reported just after 3 a.m., and the other about 4:30 p.m., officials said, though both occurred within about a quarter-mile of each other on Angeles Crest Highway, just south of Dark Canyon Truck Trail, in the Angeles National Forest north of La Canada Flintridge.
Julio Cesar Velasquez, 21, of Pasadena, was pronounced dead at the scene of the early morning crash, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
He was driving westbound on the highway in his 2007 Honda at an unknown speed when he lost control, California Highway Patrol officials said in a written statement.
Velasquez’s car struck an embankment and a tree, and he was pronounced dead from his injuries by a Los Angeles County paramedic shortly after the crash, officials said.
“Alcohol is being investigated as a factor in this crash,” the statement said.
Friday afternoon, authorities received word of the second fatal crash about a quarter-mile north of the first crash scene.
Witnesses reported seeing a vehicle go over the side of the road and plummet about 500 feet down a hillside, CHP Officer Jennifer Connolly said.
The driver of the vehicle, who was initially described as a 48-year-old Monterey Park man, was pronounced dead at the scene.
No further information was available late Friday.
The causes of both crashes remained under investigation.
Caltrans officials on June 3 reopened seven miles of Angeles Crest Highway that had been closed since the Station Fire scorched the area in the summer of 2009.
The $32 million repair job was celebrated by local residents and motorists eager to see the connection between the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys restored, however the road also has a dangerous history.
Hundreds of crashes have been reported on the road in recent years, and CHP officials cautioned the public when it reopened to be careful while using Angeles Crest Highway and obey all traffic laws.

Man charged with La Crescenta slaying of cousin

From City News Serice
PASADENA — A Tujunga man was charged Thursday with murdering his 33- year-old female cousin, whose body was left near the La Crescenta Avenue offramp of the westbound 210 Freeway.
Aram Sarukhanyan, 27, is accused of shooting Adrine Arzumanyan and then pointing a handgun at a civilian who tried to stop him after he allegedly dumped the victim’s body alongside the freeway April 29.
Sarukhanyan was located a short time later on the southbound 2 Freeway with a self-inflicted gunshot wound that resulted in his hospitalization, authorities said.
He will be arraigned after he is released from the hospital, according to Deputy District Attorney Lee Mitchell.
Sarukhanyan is charged with one felony count each of murder and brandishing a firearm at a person in motor vehicle, along with the allegation that he personally used a handgun in the commission of Arzumanyan’s shooting.
If convicted, he faces a maximum of more than 50 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office. 

Drivers distracted by gadgets blamed for crashed in Industry, La Canada Flintridge

Officials blame drivers distracted by gadgets for two separate injury crashes late Friday in Industry and early Saturday in La Canada Flintridge.
A man suffered a broken ankle about 8:50 p.m. Friday when he crashed into a telephone pole at Baldwin Park Boulevard and Temple Avenue in Industry, Lt. Steve Katz said in a written statement.
The man told deputies he dropped his cell phone while driving and leaned over to retrieve it, the lieutenant said.
“In doing so, the vehicle veered toward the curb and struck a telephone pole,” Katz said.
The crash brought live electrical wires down into the street, officials said, however electrical service and traffic signals were unaffected. A Southern California Edison crew was summoned to repair the damage.
About five hours later, a 22-year-old man was hospitalized with major injuries when he crashed his car while sending a text message on the westbound 210 Freeway near Foothill Boulevard, California Highway Patrol Officer Ed Jacobs said.
“He was texting while driving,” he said. “His wife or girlfriend received the text a minute after the crash came out.”
The car swerved across westbound lanes, hit the center divider and overturned, Jacobs said.
The driver was taken Huntington Hospital in Pasadena for treatement of injuries that were believed to be life-threatening, officials said.

Woman interrupts burglary, attacked with truck in La Canada Flintridge

LA CAADA FLINRTRIDGE — Sheriff’s deputies arrested a Pasadena man and an Altadena teen Tuesday after they broke into a woman’s house, then one of them rammed her car with their own, authorities said.
Ricardo Lopez, 19, of Pasadena, was booked on suspicion of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon, while a 17-year-old Altadena boy was suspected of burglary, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Blume said.
A 54-year-old woman arrived home about 10:45 a.m. and found the suspects inside her house, the lieutenant said.
When Lopez saw the woman was dialing 9-1-1, he ran out to his truck and charged toward the woman’s car, Blume said.
“The truck scraped against passenger side of the victim’s car,” he said, then drove away.
Stolen from the home was four laptop computers and other electronics, Blume said.
The teenage suspect, who was left behind in the scuffle, was found nearby walking on Foothill Boulevard with the help of tips from neighbors, officials said.
Deputies found Lopez sitting in the car believed to have been involved in the incident parked near his home in Pasadena, Blume said. Lopez was arrested, and deputies discovered items allegedly stolen from the house in La Caada Flintridge inside Lopez’s home.
According to sheriff’s booking records, Lopez was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail and was due for arraignment Thursday in Pasadena Superior Court.

Sheriff’s Crescenta Valley Station evacuated due to smoke

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE – The sheriff’s Crescenta Valley Station was briefly evacuated Thursday evening after a faulty air conditioning unit filled the building with smoke, authorities said.
The smoke was first reported at 6:42 p.m. at the sheriff’s station, 4554 Briggs Ave. in La Crescenta, Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor Michael Pittman said.
The building was evacuated and emergency calls were re-routed to the sheriff’s Temple Station, sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Conti said.
A single inmate being housed in the Crescenta Valley Station jail was secured in a police car during the incident, he added, and Crescenta Valley deputies continued their usual patrols.
The malfunctioning air conditioner bellowed smoke in to the station, though there was no actual fire, officials said.
Firefighters were ventilating the building around 7:30 p.m., and operations at the station were expected to return to normal later Thursday evening.

Man robs bank in La Canada Flintridge, flees emty-handed

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — A man robbed a bank Friday, but left the cash behind after a dye pack exploded, authorities said.
The crime occurred just after noon at the Citizens Business Bank, 858 Foothill Blvd., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Blume said.
The robber entered the bank and presented a note to a teller, he said. The note demanded cash and claimed the man had a weapon.
After receiving some cash from a teller, the robber left the bank. A dye pack concealed in the money exploded as the robber exited the bank, and he abandoned the stolen cash.
He was last seen getting into an unknown getaway car, Blume added.
Officials described the robber as a white man in his 50s or 60s with a white mustache and bushy hair. He wore a blue striped shirt and a white baseball cap.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s Crescenta Valley Station at 818-248-3464.

Seven-year sentence for La Canada woman in federal fraud case

From Thom Mrozek:

LOS ANGELES – A La Caada woman who sold fake art – including works purported to be by Picasso, Dali and Chagall – through a rigged televised art auction has been sentenced to 84 months in federal prison.

Kristine Eubanks, 52, was sentenced late yesterday by United States District Judge Gary A. Feess, who said that the fraud scheme was “audacious in its scope” and “blatantly illegal.”

The scam, run through a company called Fine Art Treasures Gallery, falsely told customers that art sold on the company’s television show had been found at “estate liquidations all over the world.” Instead, Eubanks and others sold fake and forged art that they had bought from suppliers, as well as forgeries they had printed themselves and signed on behalf of the artists. The scam brought in well over $20 million from more than 10,000 victims across the country.

Eubanks pleaded guilty in April 2007 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property and to filing a false income tax return. Through this company, Eubanks and her conspirators operated an art auction television show, which aired on Friday and Saturday nights on DirecTV and The Dish Network, and sold art to customers around the United States. Eubanks and her husband, Gerald Sullivan, ran the scheme from 2002 through 2006.

Eubanks admitted that she obtained fake art from various suppliers, and printed other art works in her own printing shop, and sold that bogus art on the auction as genuine. Eubanks and others forged signatures on some of the works, including purported lithographs from Picasso, Chagall and Dali. To support the scam, Eubanks also forged Certificates of Authenticity for certain pieces and provided falsified appraisals for some of the jewelry that was sold to customers. Eubanks and others also rigged the bidding for the auction process by arranging for fake bids to be announced on the program to falsely drive up prices for the art they sold to the public.

Eubanks’ husband, Gerald Sullivan, 54, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Feess on May 24, at which time he faces a statutory maximum sentence of six years in federal prison.

As part of the investigation into Fine Arts, federal authorities seized approximately $3.8 million from bank accounts controlled by Eubanks and Sullivan. Those funds have been forfeited to the government, which is in the process of notifying thousands of potential victims that they may have purchased bogus artworks.

This case was investigated by the national Art Crime Team at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail.

La Canada attorney charged in kiddie porn case

From Sandi Gibbons in the District Attorney’s Office:

LOS ANGELES – An attorney investigated as part of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) probe of hardcore child pornography on the Internet pleaded no contest today to one felony count each of possessing child pornography and an assault rifle.

Deputy District Attorney Susan Schwartz of the Justice System Integrity Division said Walter Loustari, who remains free on bail, entered the plea before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan. Sentencing was scheduled for March 3.

Schwartz said the 58-year-old defendant entered an “open” plea, meaning it was not part of a negotiated settlement. His sentence could range anywhere from probation to three years and eight months in state prison.

Loustari, who had a law office in La Canada and lived in Glendale, was charged in October 2009 following an investigation by ICE and the Glendale Police Department.

Authorities said the investigation began in October 2006 as part of ICE’s Operation Predator, in which the agency works closely with local agencies to investigate child pornography throughout the United States.