MONROVIA >> A Valinda man accused of strangling his girlfriend in an SUV before sending pictures of her body and an apologetic message to his mother pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Pasadena Superior Court, officials said.
Prosecutors charged Joel Velasquez, 49, last month with the murder of his 46-year-old girlfriend, Alice Marie Medina-Kaplan, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said. Deputies found her body Sept. 21 inside an SUV parked in her father’s backyard in the 200 block of Mauna Loa Drive in Monrovia.
Medina-Kaplan and Velasquez had been staying in the SUV, officials said.
Prosecutors also accuse Velasquez of the special allegation that he has a previous felony conviction in 2011 for making criminal threat.
Velasquez entered a not guilty plea, Santiago said. He is scheduled to come back to court Nov. 17 for a preliminary hearing setting.
An autopsy determined Medina-Kaplan died of strangulation, and her death was ruled a homicide, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operation Ed Winter said.
Via text message, “(Velasquez) sent pictures to his mother of his deceased girlfriend,” Winter said. The grisly photos were accompanied by a message saying he was sorry.
Handling detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, who are assisting Monrovia police in the investigation, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Friends recalled Medina-Kaplan was a woman with a once-bright future who was formerly married to an attorney and living in upscale neighborhoods before mental illness changes thr course of her life. Medina-Kaplan met Velasquez at a homeless shelter in Altadena.
Medina-Kaplan’s father told KABC that his daughter suffered from schizophrenia.
Velasquez faces up to 30 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged.
PHOTO of Alica Marie Medina-Kaplan courtesy of the DMV.
MONROVIA >> Rescuers found a 15-year-old autistic boy more than six hours after he became separated from his group while hiking in the forest north of Monrovia Saturday, authorities said.
The Placentia teen was hiking with a church group comprised of special needs teens shortly before noon north of Monrovia Canyon Park when he became lost, Monrovia police Lt. Nells Ortlund said.
He went ahead of the group and became separated from his fellow hikers near the trail head of the Twin Springs Trail, north of the Trask Scout Camp, police said.
His group first searched for him themselves before they made their way out of the wilderness and were able to call for help about 3:20 p.m., the lieutenant said.
The boy had some food and water with him, but he is not familiar with the area and was not dressed for cold weather, officials said. The concern continued to grow as nightfall approached.
But officials found the boy shortly after 6:30 p.m. about two miles away from where he had been separated from the group, Lt. Nick Manfredi said. He was unharmed.
Monrovia police were joined in their search by the Monrovia Fire Department, the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, and helicopters from the Pasadena Police Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ortlund said.
MONROVIA >> A woman was found strangled to death in Monrovia late Sunday, and a man was arrested in connection with her death, authorities said.
Few details were initially released regarding the death, which was reported just before 4 p.m. in a residential neighborhood in the 200 block of Mauna Loa Drive, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s headquarters Bureau said in a written statement.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
Monrovia police deferred comment to the sheriff’s department, which is spearheading the investigation.
No further details were available.
MONROVIA >> A multi-vehicle wreck blamed on a wrong-way driver on the 210 Freeway in Monrovia left three people hospitalized in critical condition late Saturday, officials said.
Officials shut down all but carpool lane of the westbound 210 Freeway following the crash, which took place shortly after 11:30 p.m. just west of Mountain Avenue, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Polizzi said.
A total of five vehicles became involved in the crash, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett said.
Three people were hospitalized in critical condition, while a fourth was treated for apparently minor injuries, Pickett said. One person was thrown from a vehicle, while another had to be freed from the wreckage by firefighters.
All of the injured were “alert and conscious,” Polizzi said.
Officials received a report of a Jeep Cherokee entering the westbound freeway from the offramp one minute before the crash, according to CHP logs.
A Sig Alert remained in effect until about 1 a.m. for all but the carpool lane of the westbound 210 Freeway.
MONROVIA — Firefighters quickly doused the flames of a 10-acre brush fire that scorched several junked cars parked at an auto salvage yard Saturday, officials said.
The fire was first reported at 3:38 p.m. at the Peck Road Water Conservation Park, next to LKQ Pick-A-Part along Peck Road just south of Live Oak Avenue, Los Angeles County and Arcadia fire officials said.
Los Angeles County firefighters helped their counterparts in the Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena and San Gabriel fire departments with the blaze.
Water-dropping helicopters were initially summoned but quickly cancelled as firefighters got the upper hand on the fire, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Art Marrujo said.
The flames were extinguished at 4:25 p.m., but not before the fire scorched about 10 acres of brush and crossed into the salvage yard, scorching several cars, Arcadia Fire Department spokeswoman Beth Stogner said in a written statement.
“Although the exact cause of the fire remains under investigation, fire investigators are on scene and have identified the origin of the fire in a homeless encampment in the gravel pit,” Stogner said.
No injuries were reported.
MONROVIA — Suicide is suspected after a man plummeted to his death from the top of the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Monrovia late Friday, officials said.
The body of a man was discovered just before 10 p.m. in the parking lot of the hotel, 700 W. Huntington Drive, Monrovia police Sgt. Glen Coleman.
The man was yet to be positively identified Saturday, coroner’s officials said, however police initially described him as a man in his mid-20s who was believed to be a Monrovia resident.
A passer-by called 9-1-1 to report an injured man was lying in the parking lot, though the caller did not know what had happened to the man, Coleman said. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
A review of footage from a nearby surveillance camera indicated the man had jumped from the top of the hotel, Coleman said.
The investigation was ongoing and coroner’s investigators planned to perform an autopsy.
A man sought for sexually battering a woman last week in Monrovia may be the same serial groper linked to two other similar attacks on women early last month in the city, officials said.
The most recent incident took place about 8 a.m. Friday at Huntington Drive and Canyon Boulevard, according to Monrovia police officials. A 23-year-old woman escaped without injury after being approached from behind and groped by an attacker.
“A lone male suspect approached the victim from behind,” police said in a written statement.
The attacker wrapped his right arm around the victims waist while grabbing her buttocks with his left hand, police said.
“The suspect said, ‘Hey baby,’ as assaulted the victim,” according to the police statement. “When the victim screamed for help, the suspect fled north on Canyon, out of view.”
Police alerted the public last month after two similar sexually batteries involving a strikingly similar suspect description were reported elsewhere in town April 1 and 2.
“There is a possibility this is the same suspect in our prior case,” Lt. Nells Ortlund said.
He noted that composite drawings of the suspects generated from the incidents in early April and late May bore a strong resemblance to each other.
In all three cases, the attacker was described as Latino, between 16 and 21 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and of thin build, officials said.
In the first two crimes in April, the groper rode a skateboard, police said at the time. No skateboard was reported in connection with Friday’s attack.
The victim in the April 1 incident, a woman in her 30s, was also groped and had her buttocks grabbed by a young man about 9 p.m. as she walked in the 700 block of South Fifth Ave., officials said. In the April 2 assault, which took place about 4:50 p.m. in the 800 block of West Chestnut Avenue, a woman in her 30s or 40s was grabbed in a hug before the man grabbed her breasts, commented on her breast size, kicked her in the leg and fled.
Investigators have shown photographic line-ups to victims, but have not yet been able to positively identify a suspect, Ortlund said.
The crimes appear to be opportunistic in nature, Ortlund said, occurring at all different times of day, and the women attacked have all been walking alone
The lieutenant advised women to keep a cellphone with them when walking, and report any suspicious activity to police immediately. Clues such as clear description and direction of travel could be vital in helping officers make an arrest.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Monrovia police at (626) 256-80000.
COMPOSITE suspect sketches in May sexual battery (above) and April sexual batteris (below) courtesy of the Monrovia Police Department.
MONROVIA >> Two “shadowy figures” escaped with $7 after breaking into a Monrovia pet shop early Thursday, authorities said.
The burglary took place about 1:30 a.m. at PetSmart, 745 W. Huntington Drive, Monrovia police Lt. Michael Lee said.
A witness reported hearing the front window of the store shattering, then two “shadowy figures” fleeing from the area, according to the lieutenant.
Police discovered the intruders had entered the store and gone through the cash registers, Lee said. They obtained $7 in the felony. No animals were taken or injured.
Detectives were checking area surveillance cameras for clues, he added.
MONROVIA >> A power outage knocked out electrical service to more than 3,800 homes and business Friday afternoon, according to Southern California Edison
The outage was first reported about 4:50 p.m. and affected 2,094 SCE customers, according to the utility.
A second outage reported at 6:10 p.m. knocked out electricity to another 1,765 Monrovia SCE customers.
Repairs crews were working to identify and fix the problems, SCE officials said.
The cause remained under investigation late Friday, SCE spokeswoman Susan Cox said.
All but 543 customers had their power restored by 7:25 p.m., and the rest came back online before 8 p.m.
MONROVIA — Police are seeking a young man with a skateboard believed to have groped two women in Monrovia earlier this week.
The attacks took place 9 p.m. Tuesday in the 700 block of South Fifth Avenue and 4:50 p.m. Wednesday in the 800 block of W. Chestnut Avenue, Monrovia police officials said Thursday in a written statement.
“Both victims described the suspect as a male Hispanic, 16-20 years old, 5 feet 6 inches to five fee 7 inches tall, (of) thin build, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and dark pants,” according to the police statement. “The suspect was in possession of a skateboard in during both incidents.”
During Tuesday’s crime, a woman was walking when the attacker approached her from behind and “hugged her tightly by wrapping his arms around her body,” according to the police statement. “The suspect slapped the victim on the buttocks and then fled the scene on a skateboard.”
In Wednesday’s sexual battery, “A male suspect approached her from behind and reached around her body, grabbed both of her breasts with his hands,” the police statement said. “The suspect commented on the victim’s breast size and kicked her in the leg. He then left the scene with a skateboard in his hand.”
Neither woman reported injuries in connection with the incidents, police said.
Police were working with the two victims to create a composite sketch of the groper, Sgt. Don Newton said.