HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A La Puente man who lived as a fugitive in Mexico for three years before his capture is guilty of murdering his girlfriend in 2011 and dumping her body in Hacienda Heights, a jury found Friday.
A jury at the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court deliberated for less than a day before convicting Francisco Nila Rojas of first-degree murder for the Feb. 18, 2011, slaying of 41-year-old Claudia Tecuautzin of La Puente, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
The jury also found true the special allegation that Rojas personally used a gun. He faces up to 50 year to life in state prison at his sentencing, scheduled Monday, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
After shooting Tecuautzin in the head, he dumped her body down an embankment along Turnbull Canyon, near Skyline Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. A passer-by discovered her remains on March 2, 2011. It took coroner’s investigators several weeks to identify the body, due to the condition in which it was found.
“According to evidence presented at trial, Rojas stole money from Tecuautzin’s bank accounts before and after she was killed,” according to Ardalani.
“Additionally, a Ford Explorer that Rojas and the victim co-owned contained remnants of the victim’s blood. Also, the car’s passenger floor was bleached.”
Further cementing Rojas’ guilt, prosecutors learned that Rojas had purchased a gun on Feb. 12, 2011, less than a week before the slaying took place, Ardalani said. “The same gun was consistent with bullet fragments recovered from the victim’s head, according to expert testimony.”
But by the time the victim and suspect had been identified, the killer had fled the country.
Rojas, a Mexican national, fled to Mexico five days after the killing, according to Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
He was captured in Mexico in 2014, then extradited back to Los Angeles County to face trial in October of 2015.
LA PUENTE >> An 18-year-old man accused of crashing his father’s Mercedes-Benz through a La Puente bedroom in which to children were sleeping early Wednesday, then running away, turned himself in to deputies late in the day, authorities said Thursday.
The crash took place about 1:45 a.m. at Temple and Duff avenues, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Lang said.
A 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 was eastbound on Temple Avenue when it veered to the side of the road, crashed through a fence and plowed through the side of a house, Lang said.
Two children sleeping inside the room penetrated by the car were unhurt, Lang said.
The driver got out of the car and ran away, officials said. He left his tennis shoes behind in the car as he fled.
The 18-year-old suspect showed up at the sheriff’s Industry Station Wednesday afternoon with his father and turned himself in, Sgt. Gina Eguia said. The car turned out to belong to his father.
Deputies issued the driver a misdemeanor citation for hit-and-run, she said. His name was not available Thursday afternoon.
PHOTO by Pedro F. Garcia
LA PUENTE >> Two children escaped injury when a car plowed through their bedroom in La Puente early Wednesday morning, authorities said. The driver ran away and remained at-large Wednesday afternoon.
The crash took place about 1:45 a.m. at the corner of Temple and Duff avenues, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Lang said.
A 2015-Mercedes-Benz C300 was eastbound on Temple Avenue when the driver lost control, the deputy said. The car struck the curb or wheelchair ramp, then smashed through a fence and into the side of the home.
The vehicle ended up embedded about halfway into the bedroom, in which two children were sleeping, Lang said. Neither child was injured.
The driver abandoned the wrecked Mercedes and fled the scene on foot, Lang said. He was initially described as a man between 20 and 25 years old.
The crash was caught on video by a nearby surveillance camera, Lang said. Investigators were working to obtain a copy of the recording.
Deputies continued seeking the driver, as well as the registered owner, of the car Wednesday afternoon.
Lang urged the driver to turn himself in.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322.
LA PUENTE >> La Puente’s Mayor Valerie Munoz and the deputies from the Los ngeles County Sheriff’s La Puente Special Assignment Team are inviting the community to join them for the 4th Annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast this month.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 16 in the banquet room of St. Joseph School, 15650 Temple Ave., organizers said in a written statement.
The mayor will also be discussing critical issues and accomplishments within La Puente over the past year, as well as the importance of local churches and clergy in the community, according the statement.
Sheriff’s Industry Station Capt. Tim Murakami and Lt. Pete Cacheiro are also scheduled to give a presentation regarding community policing, crime reductions, crime statistics and goals for policing in the 21st Century.
Breakfast will be served.
“The LASD/La Puente Prayer Breakfast has had great positive success in the past four years with the community, clergy and law enforcement,” Cacheiro said. “When our Special Assignment Team implemented the event, we had full support from then-mayor Charlie Klinakis and local business like Cacique Cheese, C&F Foods, Starbucks and Roly’s Trucking. The event has established a large network and outreach to our communities and the unincorporated areas.”
To reserve a spot, contact Deputy Viviana Marez at 626-934-3303, or email email@example.com.
LA PUENTE >> Deputies arrested six suspects in a series of San Gabriel Valley robberies and carjackings after they crashed a just-stolen car in Chino late Tuesday, authorities said.
The incident began just after 9:10 p.m. when a woman was carjacked in front of a home in the 800 block of Greycliff Avenue, according to Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau.
The woman told deputies she had just arrived home when she was confronted by a group of carjackers, “one of whom was armed with a baseball bat,” Navarro-Suarez said in a written statement.
The carjackers threatened to retrieve a handgun if the woman refused to turn over her vehicle, and she complied out of fear for her safety, the deputy said. The group of carjackers then fled in her car.
Deputies spotted the carjacked vehicle moments later in the area of the 60 Freeway and Fullerton Road in Industry, she said. They initially gave chase on the 60 Freeway, but soon cancelled the chase and followed the fleeing vehicle via helicopter only “due to excessive speeds,” Navarro-Suarez said.
The vehicle continued speeding east before ultimately crashing at Euclid and Merrill avenues in Chino. All six suspects ran from the crashed car but were soon apprehended by deputies during a search of the area.
Brian Mendez, a 20 year-old national of El Salvador and Christian Lucero, an 18 year-old national of Honduras, were booked on suspicion of carjacking, officials said. They were being held in lieu of $100,000 bail each.
Four juvenile suspects, two boys and two girls, were also arrested and taken to a juvenile hall, Navarro-Suarez said. They were described as nationals of El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.
While continuing their investigation, deputies noticed a second car parked near the scene of the La Puente carjacking which had been reported stolen in Texas, where all six suspects are believed to live, according to Navarro-Suarez.
“It is believed that the six suspects abandoned the stolen vehicle during the time of the carjacking,” she added.
The stolen car from Texas matched the description of one used in a series of recent robberies in the La Puente and Rowland Heights areas, officials said.
Further details regarding the spate of robberies were not available late Wednesday.
The investigation was ongoing.
LA PUENTE >> A minivan smashed through the front door of a La Puente juice shop on Thursday, causing significant damage but resulting in no injuries, authorities said.
The incident took place about 2 p.m. at Rio’s Water & Juice, 16012 Main Street, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Pete Cacheiro said.
A woman in her 30’s was parking when her Toyota Sienna minivan lurched forward, through the plate glass windows of the business, he said.
“It appears that she inadvertently accelerated instead of stepping on the break and drove through the front windows,” Cacheiro said.
The driver was unhurt, he said. An employee was inside the store at the time, but was standing toward the back of the business and also suffered no injuries.
It did not initially appear the building had sustained structural damage, however a city engineer was summoned to inspect it, the lieutenant said.
Officials initially estimated the dollar-value of the damage at $40,000.
LOS ANGELES >> A former gang member from Baldwin Park received a 24-year prison sentence this week for his role in a federal drug trafficking conspiracy in which he admitted personally executing another gang member from Valinda who failed to pay “taxes,” or extortion payments, to the Mexican Mafia, authorities announced Thursday.
Eddie “Criminal” Garcia, a former 18th Street gang member with ties to Baldwin Park and El Sereno, pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Los Angeles to a charge of participating in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine as part of a federal case targeting the Mexican Mafia-controlled Puente 13 street gang.
As part of his plea agreement, Garcia admitted to luring and fatally shooting David Dragna, 44, of Valinda at an apartment complex in the 14700 block of Prichard Street in La Puente on July 3, 2006, U.S. Department of Justice Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
“Garcia admitted that in 2006 he and two members of Puente 13 lured another gang member to an apartment complex, where Garcia executed the victim with a bullet to the head,” Mrozek said.
Garcia carried out the killing on the orders of leaders of Puente 13, who accused Dragna of keeping extortion payments on drug proceeds, or “taxes,” intended for the Mexican Mafia, officials said. Dragna was a member of the Townsmen gang, which also operates in the Valinda Corridor in the central Can Gabriel Valley.
“This defendant killed another human being in cold blood to further his own criminal credentials and to further his drug trafficking career,” U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Eileen M. Decker said. “While he may have believed he could get away with murder, the hard work and dedication of law enforcement and prosecutors in my office ensured that he was held accountable. This case is a stark reminder of the devastating impact of gang violence on our community and the severe consequences that will result from participating in those criminal enterprises.”
At the time of Garcia’s plea deal, the prosecution and defense in the case agreed to recommend Garcia be sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald opted for the high end of the range, sentencing Garcia on Monday to 24 years behind bars, as well as eight years of supervised release upon the completion of his prison term.
The two Puente 13 gang members who joined Garcia in the killing have since pleaded guilty to the slaying, Mrozek said. Angel “Smiley” Torres is serving a 15-and-a-half-year prison term, and Steven “Flaco” Nunez is serving a 10-year sentence.
As part of the same investigation into Puente 13, which began in 2008, longtime gang leader Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez, 42, of La Puente and his brother, Cesar “Blanco” Munoz-Gonazalez of Rowland Heights, received life sentenced in federal prison in 2013 after being convicted at trial of violating the Racketeer Influence Corrupt Organizations Act, as well as committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering, engaging in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, weapons charges and other offenses.
The investigation into Puente 13 has resulted in four indictments and the convictions of about five-dozen gang members and associates, officials said.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> The search for a La Puente man who disappeared during a hiking trip in the Angeles National Forest north of Sierra Madre came to a tragic end Saturday when officials discovered the man’s body near the base of Hermit Falls, authorities said.
Avid outdoorsman John Richard King, 63, left his home in La Puente on Thursday morning and never returned, according to Deputy Guillermina Saldana of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau said.
His family reported him missing after he failed to return home Thursday night, as planned, officials said.
King’s car was found in the parking area of Chantry Flat, and sheriff’s search and rescue team members launched a search of the area that continued all day Friday.
The searchers discovered King’s body near the base of Hermit Falls about noon, Sgt. Alan Lie of the sheriff’s Temple Station said.
Homicide detectives and coroner’s officials were summoned to the scene to continue the investigation.
“Detectives report his body was found in the water below Hermit Falls by the Antelope Valley Search and Rescue Team,” according to Deputy Ruan Rouzan of the sheriff’s information Bureau. “It appears Mr. King, while hiking, slipped and fell approximately 40 feet into the water.”
“There appears to be no foul play, and the fall was accidental,” Rouzan said. “Mr. King’s family arrived on scene to positively identify his body.”
No further details were available.
PHOTO of John King, 63, of La Puente (courtesy)
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Rescuers continued searching the Angeles National Forest north of Sierra Madre on Friday for a 63-year-old La Puente man who went hiking Thursday and never returned, authorities said.
John Richard King was last seen about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday as he left his home in La Puente to go hiking in the Chantry Flat area of the forest, Deputy Guillermina Saldana of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
King was expected to return home by 10:30 p.m. but never arrived, Deputy Oscar Cantu of the sheriff’s Temple Station said. A worried relative reported him missing.
“The missing person’s vehicle was located in the parking area of Chantry Flat,” Saldana said. “He is an avid hiker and his family is very concerned for his wellbeing.”
Sheriff’s search and rescue teams from Sierra Madre, Malibu, Montrose and San Dimas, assisted by a helicopter, went in search of the missing hiker Thursday night. The search was halted overnight and resumed Friday morning.
King is described as white, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 220 pounds, with short gray hair, brown eyes and a gray beard.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau’s Missing Persons Detail at 323-890-5500.
LA PUENTE >> A meeting previously planned by sheriff’s officials are to discuss La Puente’s gang injunction later this month has been cancelled.
The meeting, which has been scheduled for Oct. 25 at the St. Louis of France Catholic Church, 13935 E. Temple Ave., will be rescheduled for sometime early next year, organizers said.
At the annual meetings, sheriff’s officials, prosecutors and crime analysts meet with the community to discuss and answer questions regardingLa Puente’s gang injunction.
In addition to La Puente, the injunction against the Puente 13 and Bassett Grande street gangs also covers portions of West Covina and nearby unincorporated county areas such as Valinda and Bassett.