UPDATED: Pico Rivera man mistakenly shot and killed by sheriff’s deputy during gun battle with fleeing parolee

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PICO RIVERA >> A sheriff’s deputy was believed to have accidentally shot a Pico Rivera man Friday during a gun battle with a fleeing parolee who had broken into his home, authorities said Saturday.
A  SWAT team ultimately shot and killed the gunman after he held the homeowner’s wife hostage for eight hours, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Division Chief William McSweeney. The hostage was rescued unharmed.
Coroner’s officials did not officially identify the slain homeowner Saturday, however family members identified him as Frank Mendoza. The rescued hostage was his wife, 60-year-old Lorraine Munoz, family members said.
Parolee Cedric Ramirez, 24, of Pico Rivera was killed about 1:30 a.m. as SWAT deputies forced their way into the home in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
The incident began about eight hours earlier when Ramirez fled from officials and ran into the home, engaging deputies in a shootout, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
0803_NWS_WDN-L-STANDOFF2The deadly encounter began about 5:30 p.m. Friday when sheriff’s gang deputies spotted Ramirez, a wanted parolee with two felony warrants, in the 9000 block of Reichling Lane.
“He entered the backyard of the victims’ residence where he exchanged gunfire with the deputies,” sheriff’s officials said in a written statement. “Ramirez then broke into the victims’ home through a window.”
Pursuing deputies, fearful the occupants would be harmed, went to the home’s front door and began evacuating the residents from the house. An adult and two children were rushed from the house when Ramirez appeared in an interior hallway and began shooting at the Deputies. The Deputies returned fire and then retreated to the front yard, seeking cover,” McSweeney said.
“Within seconds of their exit, an adult male suddenly appeared in the front doorway,” the chief said. “Believing the man was Ramirez, a deputy fired two shots at the man.  The man dropped unconscious in the doorway and was subsequently recognized to be one of the residents. Preliminary information indicates those shots likely struck Mr. Frank Mendoza.”
Paramedics pronounced Mendoza dead at the scene.
Officials said Ramirez then fled into the home, taking the 60-year-old woman hostage. Nishida said. A SWAT team surrounded the home as a crisis negotiator spoke with Ramirez by telephone and tried to persuade him to surrender peacefully.
After eight hours, the SWAT team moved in.
“After an extended standoff, a Special Enforcement Bureau, special weapons team, entered the location which ended with the fatal shooting of the suspect,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. Deputies rescued the woman, and Ramirez died at the scene.
Family members of the victims and neighbors described a harrowing ordeal.
Frank Mendoza lived at the Rosehedge Drive home with his wife, four sons, and young grandchildren, daughter-in-law Tanya Mendoza said.
When the shooting began and Frank Mendoza was mortally wounded, one of his sons who was home at the time gathered his two young children and rushed them out of the home, family members said.
Deputies rushed them to cover behind a parked car, said Sandra Monge, whose 83-year-old mother and brother live next door to the involved home. They were trapped for about two hours before being evacuated by deputies through their back yard.
While continuing to trade gunfire with Ramirez, deputies pulled Frank Mendoza around the corner and out of the line of fire, neighbors said. It was there, at the corner of Lindsey Avenue and Reichling Drive, that the wounded man was pronounced dead.
Lorraine Munoz, who walks with difficulty and uses a wheelchair or cane, was not able to get out of the home.
Family members did not know Ramirez, Tanya Mendoza said, adding that it appeared he broke into a random house while fleeing deputies.
“This incident was beyond tragic, and all of law enforcement grieves with the Mendoza family,” McSweeney said. “We have made personal contact with the family, and have expressed our regret and sadness over these events.
“This investigation continues, and every aspect of this incident will be assessed for compliance with the law and Department policy,” McSweeney said.
Ramirez was in violation of his parole and being sought on warrants for being an convicted felon in possession of a firearm and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent when deputies encountered him Friday, officials said.
Los Angeles County court records show Ramirez was convicted in of possessing a loaded firearm along with narcotics in 2013, vandalism in 2008 and carrying a loaded gun in 2007.
Heartbroken family members described Frank Mendoza as a light-spirited and dedicated family man who had lived at the same home on Rosehedge Drive for 32 years.
“He was just a great guy,” sister Kathy Mendoza said.
“He was hard-working man,” she said, adding that her brother was three months away from retiring from his job working on machines for a grocery company, where he had worked since he was a young man.
In addition to his wife, he’s survived by four sons, one daughter, two step-sons and one step-daughter, Tanya Mendoza said. He had 12 grandchildren and two more on the way, and two great grandchildren.
“He was a joker. He was always willing to help,” Kathy Mendoza said.
“He was always the life of the party,” son Jeremy Mendoza said.
Tanya Mendoza thanked the community for its support following Friday’s tragedy.
The Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is spearheading the investigation. As is common procedure in Los Angeles County deputy-involved shootings, the incident is also being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review.

PHOTOS: (TOP) Family members of a slain homeowner and Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators congregate in front of the home where a wanted parolee allegedly engaged deputies in a shoot-out, killing 54-year-old Frank Mendoza. Ramirez then allegedly took Mendoza’s 60-year-old wife hostage for about eight hours before he was shot and killed by a SWAT team in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive in Pico Rivera in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (Staff photo by Brian Day) BELOW: Frank Mendoza, 54, of Pico Rivera (right), pictured with wife Lorraine Munoz, 60. Mendoza died during a shoot-out between sheriff’s deputies and a fleeing parolee as the suspect forced his way into the couple’s home. Munoz was held hostage by the suspect for more than eight hours before a SWAT team killed him and rescued her in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive in Pico Rivera in the early morning hours on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.
(Courtesy of the Mendoza family)

BELOW:

 

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UPDATED: Bystander killed following shoot-out between suspect, deputies in Pico Rivera; stand-off ongoing

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PICO RIVERA >> A person believed to be a innocent bystander died and an armed parolee remained holed-up inside a Pico Rivera home with a hostage following a shoot-out between the suspect and deputies Friday afternoon, authorities said.
It was not clear Friday if the bystander had been shot by the suspect or struck by deputies’ gunfire, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
The incident began about 4:30 p.m. in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive, just east of Rosemead Boulevard, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. Sheriff’s gang investigators had been hunting for a wanted parolee when they spotted him.
Deputies had been searching for an armed man witnesses had reported seeing in the area when they encountered the suspect, Crosthwaite said.
Sgt. Crosthwaite of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station said. He declined to give his first name.
The man fled as deputies approached and ran toward the backyard of a nearby home, said Sgt. Crosthwaite of the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station. He declined to give his first name.
“He turned and fired at deputies,” the sergeant said.
The deputies, who were not struck by the suspect’s bullets, returned fire, Crosthwaite said. It was not known if the suspect was wounded in the exchange.
A man exited the home with at least one gunshot wound a short time later, Crosthwaite said. The wounded person, believed to be an innocent bystander in the incident, was pronounced dead.
No deputies were injured, officials said.
0802_NWS_WDN-L-DIS1The armed parolee was believed to have a woman as a hostage as a SWAT team engaged the suspect in a standoff that continued into the evening, Nishida said.
A sheriff’s crisis negotiator had been speaking with the suspect by phone, urging him to surrender and allow his hostage to leave, officials said.
“Crisis negotiators are trying to communicate with him and have him surrender peacefully,” Nishida said.
The identity of the 24-year-old parolee was known to investigators, but withheld late Friday as the stand-off continued, she said.
There was no known connection between the suspect and the home where he was believed holed-up, Crosthwaite said.
Deputies evacuated homes along Rosehedge Drive between Rosemead Boulevard and Lindsey Avenue as the situation continued Friday night.
The Red Cross opened a shelter for evacuated residents at El Rancho High School, 6501 Passons Blvd.

PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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Metallic balloons knock out power for thousands in Pico Rivera

PICO RIVERA >> More than 3,500 Southern California Edison customers lost electrical service Wednesday afternoon after metallic balloons became entangled in equipment, according to the utility.
The outage began about 2:20 p.m. in the area of Rosemead and Beverly boulevards, according to data published by SCE.
More than 3,500 customers remained in the dark as of 10 p.m., officials said.
The outage was blamed on metallic balloons interfering with equipment, and the utility estimated all power would be restored by 7 a.m. Thursday.

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Newborn boy surrendered at Pico Rivera fire station; second Safe Surrender this week

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PICO RIVERA — For the second time in three days, a mother has turned over a newborn infant to authorities under Los Angeles County’s Safe Surrender program, Supervisor Don Knabe’s office announced Friday.
A baby boy was surrendered Wednesday at a Los Angeles County Fire Department station in Pico Rivera, Knabe representatives said in a written statement.
Another newborn, a girl, was turned over to officials at a Lynwood hospital Sunday.
The Safe Surrender program was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2001, with the goal of giving mothers who are unable to care for their babies a safe, anonymous way to turn the children over to authorities, rather than potentially abandoning them.
“It’s incredible that we have had two Safe Surrenders in one week,” Knabe said. “As word continues to spread about the program, mothers in a desperate situation learn that they have a better option. Because of their courageous decisions, these babies have a chance at a new life with a loving family.”
As always, the surrendered newborns were taken into protective custody prior to being placed with foster families by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Under the Safe Surrender Program, newborn infants no more than three days old maybe anonymously handed over to officials at hospitals or fire stations, provided the infants show no signs of abuse.
Nine babies have been surrendered in Los Angeles County under the program this year, and 122 newborns have been surrendered since the programs inceptions 13 years ago.
For more information on the Safe Surrender Program, visit www.babysafela.org.

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Two men wounded in Pico Rivera shooting

PICO RIVERA — Two men suffered wounds in a shooting in a residential Pico Rivera neighborhood Wednesday evening, officials said.
The gunfire was reported about 7:25 p.m. in the 9500 block of Burma Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva said.
Deputies responded to reports of gunman chasing after a man while shooting at him when they encountered two men who had been shot, according to officials and sheriff’s radio traffic.
One of the men had been shot three times in the torso, and the other had been struck in the leg, Villanueva said. Both were initially expected to survive their injuries.
No suspect description or motive was available, though deputies suspected the shooting was gang-related, Villanueva said. The victims were not cooperating with investigators.
A blue Chevrolet pickup truck with an extra cab was spotted leaving the area at the time of the shooting, he said, though it had not yet been determined if the truck was involved.

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13 arrested at Pico Rivera checkpoint

Deputies arrested one person on suspicion of intoxicated driving and a dozen others on suspicion of other crimes during a checkpoint late Friday and early Saturday, officials said.
The checkpoint was held from 7 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday on westbound Whittier Boulevard, just east of Rosemead Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
One driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, officials said.
One person was arrested for knowingly allowing an unlicensed person to drive, according to the sheriff’s department statement. Seven others were arrested and sent to court for driving without licenses, and four drivers were arrested and sent to court for driving on suspended or revoked licensed.
Deputies impounded one vehicle for a single day, and seven vehicles were impounded for 30 days, officials said. Four cars were released at the scene under checkpoint guidelines.
A total of 1,187 vehicles passed through the checkpoint.

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Sheriff’s checkpoint planned Friday in Pico Rivera

PICO RIVERA — Officials are planning to check drivers for both sobriety and valid licensed during a checkpoint late Friday in Pico Rivera, authorities said.
The checkpoint will take place from 7 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location within the city, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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El Monte woman, Pico Rivera woman accused of defrauding immigrants

Federal authorities arrested an El Monte woman and Pico Rivera woman Thursday on suspicion of filing fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants, bilking some of them out of their life savings, officials said.
Claudia Arreola, 35, of El Monte, who own Los Angeles-based California Immigration Services, and her employee, 35-year-old Leticia Gutierrez of Pico Rivera, were taken into custody by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted the women on six fraud-related counts, officials said.
Six victims are named in the indictment, however investigators suspect there are likely dozens more.
The defendants charged undocumented immigrants who were married to U.S. citizens as much as $24,000, claiming to be able to help them secure legal immigration status, Mrozek said. But they went on to submit fraudulent documents, such as fraudulent I-94 cards stating the clients, who came to the U.S. illegally, were in the country legally on visitors’ visas.
“Subsequently, investigators say when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive ‘green cards,’ the defendants allegedly threatened to contact authorities and have the aliens deported,” according to Mrozek.
“Fraud scams run by so-called notarios threaten the integrity of the immigration process and offer false hope to desperate people,’ U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. “The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems.”
Additionally, “at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” Special Agent in Charge for HSI in Los Angeles Clause Arnold said. “Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings, in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves rather than helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”
The similarity between the acronym for Arreola’s business, CIS, and that of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, “was no coincidence,” Mrozek added. Investigators found that money orders and cashiers checks issued to USCIS had been deposited into a bank account controlled by Arreola and Gutierrez.
The two defendants, among others, previously came under federal scrutiny in 2003 when they were sued by the government for allegedly providing immigration services in violation of California law, officials said. Under a settlement, they agreed not to engage in any illegal immigration consulting services.
They opened California Immigration Services in 2006.
If convicted as charged, Arreola and Gutierrez could each face up to 60 years in federal prison. They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.

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$5,000 reward offered in fatal Pico Rivera hit-and-run

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PICO RIVERA >> A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of the driver who fatally struck a 25-year-old Pico Rivera man as he crossed Beverly Boulevard last week.
Christopher Ventura died after he was struck by two vehicles, one of which fled the scene, late June 16 along Beverly Boulevard near Abbeywood Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. His residence was listed at the coroner’s office as transient.
0627_NWS_WDN-L-HITANDRUNREWARD2Ventura is survived by two daughters, including one who is now orphaned following the death of her mother from a medical issue last year,friends and family members said.
Officials said he was struck by an eastbound vehicle, which continued driving, before being struck by a second westbound vehicle, sheriff’s Detective Jose Marquez said.
A description of the hit-and-run vehicle was not available, the detective said.
“It’s going to have front-end damage,” Marquez said. A shard of headlight glass left behind at the scene led investigators to suspect the vehicle that struck Ventura was likely of an older model, but did not allow officials to narrow down a year, make or model.
The driver of the second vehicle remained a the scene and cooperated with investigators, according to sheriff’s officials.
A banner advertising the $5,000 reward, offered by a family friend, has been placed at the collision scene, along with candles, pictures, balloons, hand-written messages and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The donor did not wish to be identified, saying he did not want to distract attention from the search for the hit-and-run vehicle.
In order to help the grieving family, a series of car washes are planned.
They are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Flo’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant, 4597 Peck Road in El Monte; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at McDonald’s, 15000 Whittier Boulevard in Whittier; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Arco, 113 E. Arrow Highway in Glendora; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Latin Skulls Tattoo Studio, 5036 Passons Boulevard in Pico Rivera; and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at EZ Auto Repair, 4625 Peck Road in Monte.
Anyone with information regarding the hit-and-run vehicle can contact Detective Marquez at the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station at 562-949-2421. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

 

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UPDATED: More than five tons of fireworks seized from Pico Rivera business

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PICO RIVERA — Investigators seized well over five tons of illegal fireworks Thursday from a Pico Rivera neighborhood, authorities said.
Firefighters were first summoned about 12:50 p.m. to keep watch over the potentially explosive contraband, which was found in the 4700 block of Citrus Drive, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Keith Mora said.
The fireworks were found at a business called Thomas Brothers Tube Bending, according to Lt. Christopher Williams of the El Monte Police Department, which spearheaded the investigation.
“Detectives received information about the illegal fireworks being sold at this location,” Williams said. “Once on scene, detectives discovered illegal fireworks inside a trailer and multiple storage containers.”
Police arrested two men, described as the business owner and an employee, but withheld their names Thursday as the investigation continued, Williams said.
The estimate of the amount of fireworks at the business continued to grow through the afternoon, as police and firefighters filled three trucks with fireworks, and began working on a fourth.
“We’re approaching five tons,” Williams said.
Police began their investigation in May, he added.
“Our concern is this, the operation was going on so long, and brazen,” Williams said.
Prospective illegal fireworks buyers stopped by the business as police continued working there.
“Detectives who are on scene are being approached by customers attempting to buy the illegal fireworks, while we are dismantling the operation,” he said.
In some cases, would-be customers approached detectives wearing informal police uniforms, Williams said.
Officials expected to remain at the business well into the afternoon as investigators and firefighters loaded up the fireworks to take them to secure, secret location.
Only fireworks designated “Safe and Sane” are permitted in Pico Rivera, as well as El Monte, during the Independence Day holiday.
The fireworks seized Thursday did not meet that standard, Williams said. “This is all the illegal, dangerous stuff, non-State Fire Marshal approved.”

PHOTO courtesy of the El Monte Police Department

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