Coroner’s officials have identified a body found in the ocean off the coast of Dana Point as that of a 34-year-old Rowland Heights man who went missing while swimming one week ago.
The body of Frank Daniel Austin was discovered in the ocean about 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Orange County coroner’s officials said in a written statement.
He was reported missing several hours after he entered the water at Salt Creek Beach about 4 p.m. Sept. 2 and vanished, sheriff’s officials said.
Sheriff’s and U.S. Coast guard officials launched a massive search effort in the rough waters, which transformed from a rescue effort to a body recovery effort Monday, Orange County sheriff’s spokeswoman Gale Krause said.
An autopsy was planned this week to determine Austin’s cause of death.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — Sheriff’s deputies removed more than 1,800 marijuana plants, valued at about $2.7 million, from a densely wooded county area near Pathfinder Community Regional Park Friday.
In addition to the marijuana plants, about 10 members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Team also hoisted more than 1,000 pounds of fertilizers, chemicals, trash and other items from the illicit garden at the bottom of a steep canyon between the park and Vantage Pointe Drive, Lt. Nick Tippings said.
Though hidden by a canopy of trees and difficult to access due to steep terrain, the large-scale growing operation was found little more than 1,000 feet away from both Pathfinder Park and homes.
“One of the things that bothers me about this one is how close it is to a residential neighborhood and a park,” Tippings said.
A sheriff’s helicopter pilot first spotted the site in recent weeks, he said. After investigating and obtaining a search warrant, the MET deputies arrived about 7 a.m. Friday and set up along Vantage Pointe Drive before hiking their way down to the marijuana garden, which was divided into several plots, each containing several hundred marijuana plants.
No suspects were found during the operation, however several campsites were dismantled. One contained a stove range and food such as Spam, canned sausages, tortillas and beans, along with laundry detergent and clothing hanging in a tree.
Other campsites stored fertilizers and other supplies used by the growers. Because of the relatively short hike involved in accessing the grow site, detectives said it appeared they visited during the day but did not spend the night.
Detectives gathered any items they believed might be useful in identifying those responsible for the grow.
No weapons were found, however a BB gun was recovered among the pot plants.
The entry point used by the growers appeared to have been along Fullerton Road, Wagner said.
Some of the camouflage-wearing deputies carried AR-15 rifles in case of an encounter with an armed pot farmer.
Possibly tipped off by increased sheriff’s helicopter traffic over the area in the days leading up to the bust, it appeared the growers had hurriedly harvested as much of the crop as they could, investigators said, but still left behind a significant amount of pot.
“They were here yesterday or the day before at the latest, based on the condition of the cut plants,” Detective Robert Wagner said.
To irrigate the crops, the growers laid miles of plastic tubing and dug plastic-lined reservoirs. They appeared to be stealing their water by tapping into the plumbing of the nearby residential community.
And this was not the first time the same area has been used as a marijuana garden, Wagner said. The MET deputies visited the same area last summer, where they found an already-abandoned grow operation.
It’s likely the same people are responsible for both gardens, Wagner added.
Residents of Vantage Pointe Drive took photos as deputies used a helicopter to hoist bundles of marijuana and garbage out of the canyon and laid down along the side of the road before being loaded into a truck. Many said they were shocked to learn a marijuana grow, and particularly such a large one, was being tended so close to their homes.
Neighbor Stacey Wong, 53, said she had noticed that sheriff’s helicopters appeared to be spending a lot of time in the area over past week but did not know why.
A grassy area in the neighborhood often attracts loitering teenagers at night, she said, but she’d never seen any suspicious people entering or exiting the wooded area.
Wong added that she was especially angered to learn the growers had apparently been stealing their water from her community.
“I hope they catch who did this,” she said.
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ROWLAND HEIGHTS — A masked man wielding a baton robbed a woman of her purse Tuesday along Colima Road, authorities said.
The crime took place about 2 a.m. in the 19200 block of Colima Road, just east of Otterbein Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said.
A 21-year-old woman was approached by the robber on foot, the lieutenant said.
The man wore all black, including a black ski mask, and threatened to hurt the woman with a baton if she didn’t hand over her purse, Saleeby said.
The woman complied, and the man fled with the handbag, he said.
Officials described the robber as Latino, about 5 feet 7 inches tall and 170 pounds.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the sheriff’s Walnut–Diamond Bar Station at 909-595-2264.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — An overturned big rig on the 60 Freeway wrought havoc on the morning commute Friday.
The crash was first reported about 7 a.m. on the eastbound 60 at Nogales Avenue and forced the closure of the two right lanes of the freeway, as well as the Nogales Street onramp, California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada said.
The Sig Alert remained in effect until about 1 p.m. for the right lane of the freeway as crews worked to move the wreckage and clean up fuel that had leaked from the truck, officials said. The truck’s trailer was loaded with about 48,000 pounds of cargo.
There did not initially appear to be any significant injuries as a result of the crash, Posada said. The cause was not immediately clear.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — Sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating the death of an elderly man Saturday in Rowland Heights.
The man was listed as a John Doe Sunday at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner, Investigator Jerry McKibben said.
The death was reported at 3:39 p.m. Saturday in the 2300 block of Pepperdale Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Coroner’s officials did not initially receive word that foul play was suspected in the death, however an investigation was ongoing, and an autopsy yet to be performed, McKibben said.
Initial reports indicated the man was found dead inside of a home, and may have been dead for “some time,” McKibben said.
The man’s wife had been living in the home, officials said, though it was not clear whether she was capable of understanding what had transpired.
No further information was available.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — Deputies arrested four teenagers Wednesday after a man confronted them while they were trying to break into a neighbor’s home, authorities said.
A witness spotted the four teenage boys removing a rear screen from a neighbor’s apartment about 3 p.m. in the 2000 block of Batson Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Chris Blasnek said.
“When questioned (by the witness), all four juveniles took off running and the witness followed for a short distance,” Blasnek said.
Deputies responded to the area and arrested four teens, he said.
Blasnek commended the neighbor who helped catch the young burglary suspects.
“While the sheriff’s department urges the public to immediately report crime and suspicious behavior, we also want to caution people (to) avoid confrontations,” Blasnek said.
“In this case we had a good witness who felt something was wrong and questioned the activity,” Blasnek said. “He did not continue to chase the subjects and relayed his information quickly to other residents who called 9-1-1.”
One of the teenage suspects was released to a parent with a citation, he added, while the other three were taken to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — A woman arrested on suspicion of elder abuse earlier this week has been released without charges, county records show.
Hang Vu, 53, of Rowland Heights was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of abusing her step father by getting him to turn over large amounts of money and a home, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Detectives arrested Vu following months of investigation, officials said.
But county booking records show Vu was released from jail Thursday, where she had been held in lieu of $325,000 bail, due to an “insufficient complaint,” county booking records show.
The investigation was ongoing.
A Chinese national arrested while trying to board a one-way plane to China after skipping his court date for an alleged beating and robbery of another man in Rowland Heights appeared in court Thursday, officials said.
Gangyi Zhang, 20, pleaded not to charges of robbery and assault with means likely to cause great bodily injury in West Covina Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.
Zhang is accused of taking part in the beating and robbery of a man March 30 at a restaurant in the 18700 block of Colima Road in Rowland Heights, according to Deputy Benjamin Grubb Grubb of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
“During the incident Zhang and other unknown suspects got into an argument with a 26 year old Pomona man,” Grubb said. “The argument escalated and Zhang and the other suspects kicked and punched the victim repeatedly while stealing his wallet.”
Zhang was identified as a suspect and arrested the following morning, according to sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
He was released from jail two days later after posting $50,000 bail, officials said. He was ordered to appear in court Monday, but failed to show up.
“At approximately 10:45 p.m. (Monday), United States Customs and Border Protection identified suspect Zhang at Los Angeles International Airport and arrested him as he attempted to board a flight to China,” Grubb said. “Zhang was returned to the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”
Zhang was being held without bail due to a hold placed on him by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to county booking records. He was due back in court July 6.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — A Rowland Heights woman was behind bars on suspicion of abusing her elderly father-in-law by taking thousands of dollars and a house from him, authorities said.
Hang Vu, 53, was booked on suspicion of elder abuse Tuesday and was being held in lieu of $325,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
Following five months of investigation, detectives arrested her at the home in the 18000 block of Mescal Avenue where she lived with the alleged victim — her step-father, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Mario Estrada said.
The investigation revealed she had convinced the man to turn over thousands of dollars to her, as well as the title to a different home in an undisclosed area, Estrada said.
The man has since come to realize he was victimized by his step-daughter, Estrada said.
“During a search of the suspect’s residence, detective located additional evidence, along with property belonging to the victim,” Lt. Steve Katz said in a written statement. “Although a suspect has been arrested, the investigation is ongoing.”
LOS ANGELES — The start of a complex preliminary hearing was delayed Friday in the case of a Rowland Heights doctor accused of three counts of murder in the deaths of three young men who overdosed on powerful pain drugs while under her care in 2009.
At a brief hearings Friday morning and again in the afternoon, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria ordered all sides in the case to return to court Monday afternoon in the case of Hsiuying “Lisa” Tseng, 42, of Walnut.
The preliminary hearing, in which the judge will listen to a summary of the evidence from the defense and prosecution and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to order a trial, is expected to take more than two weeks.
Tseng was arrested March 1 and has been charged with three counts of murder, as well as 20 other felony charges related to the improper distribution of powerful painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and Methadone.
Through abuse of her prescription pad, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials allege, Tseng killed Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, who died March 2, 2009; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, who died April 9, 2009; and Joseph Rovero III, 21, of San Ramon, who died Dec. 18, 2009.
Prosecutors allege the drugs were prescribed without a valid medical reason.
Tseng, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, practiced out of a clinic called Advanced Care AAA Medical in Rowland Heights, which was searched by investigators in August of 2010. She has remained jailed in lieu of $3 million since her arrest earlier this year.
At her brief court appearance Friday morning, Tseng sat hunched silently, her hands shackled at the waist, using a tissue to dab her eyes beneath wire-framed glasses. She clutched a yellow bag.
She was represented in court by attorneys Allan Stokke and T. Edward Welbourn. Two other lawyers, Anthony Brooklier and Donald Marks, also comprise the doctor’s defense team.
Brooklier declined to comment Friday.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times prior to her arrest, Tseng denied any wrongdoing and said she can’t be held responsible for patients who abuse their prescriptions.
Tseng has already settled in civil court with the families of five five other men who overdosed in 2009 on powerful pain killers prescribed by the doctor.
Tseng, who earned her medical license in 1997, began practicing at the Rowland Heights clinic in 2005.
Deputy district attorneys John Niedermann and Grace Rai are prosecuting the case.
If convicted as charged, Tseng could face 45 years to life in state prison.