A man began serving a six-year prison sentenced this week after he was convicted of 12 counts of arson for torching cars and brush near his South Pasadena home.
The five-month arson spree of Javier Adolfo Viera, 36, began in November of 2012 and ended with his arrest in April of 2013, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Frances Young of the DA’s Arson-Explosives Section said.
An Alhambra Superior Court jury convicted him Tuesday of one count of arson and was continuing to deliberate on the other 11 counts when Viera announced he would plead “no contest” to the remaining charges, Young said.
He was immediately sentenced to six years in state prison and ordered to register on a state database of arsonists.
The arson fires targeted six cars and six spots of brush in the general vicinity of the Arroyo Seco, Young said. He began lighting brush fires before graduating to vehicles.
Viera told investigators he lit the fires out of jealousy and frustration.
“He was not happy with the way his life turned out. He begrudged people their good fortunes,” the prosecutor said.
The cars scorched by the arsonist included a Mercedes-Benz, an Audi, a new Volkswagen, a Honda Hybrid, a Toyota Prius and a 1972 International Harvester Scout, Young said.
“They were all really nice cars,” she added.
The fires appeared to be growing increasingly more dangerous, with one lit only inches away from a 10-unit apartment building. The cars were torched while parked in residential neighborhoods.
Following his arrest after his final car fire in Los Angeles, Viera confessed to other arsons, South Pasadena police Sgt. Robert Bartl said at the time. He told police he never meant to hurt anyone and needed help.
The brush fires all remained small, largely due to vigilant neighbors who spotted and doused the fires with water bottles and garden hoses while they remained small, Young said.
The brush fires were lit with toilet paper and cotton balls, Bartl said.
When he switched to lighting car fires, he began using trash bags full of pine needles with he left beneath the cars’ gas tanks and set afire, police said.
Viera was initially charged with 18 counts of arson, though six of the counts were dismissed prior to trial, Young said.
Additionally, investigators were looking into him in connection with at least eight additional fires in South Pasadena, Pasadena and Los Angeles, though no charges have been filed in those cases.
Viera was ordered back to court for a restitution hearing Aug. 22, Young said. He was disputing the $109,000 in alleged damages the prosecutor said he owed the victim for the damage he caused.
SOUTH PASADENA >> South Pasadena police will be joining with law enforcement agencies throughout the nation this month in a crackdown on seat belt safety known as the Click It or Ticket campaign.
Officers will be on the lookout for those who fail to use their seat belts Monday through June 1, South Pasadena police officials said in a written statement.
“In a crash, they stand a 50 percent greater chance of being killed than those who have taken the two seconds to buckle in,” according to the police statement.
“Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer vacation season, and we want to ensure that everyone arrives at their destination safe and sound,” South Pasadena Police Officer Jeff Holland said. “If you are not wearing your seat belt, you will be ticketed.”
“Wearing a seat belt is one of the easiest and best things you can do to protect yourself in the event of a car crash,” the officer added. “Taking a few moments to properly secure yourself and all your passengers before going on your way could mean the difference between life and death.”
Funding for the campaign is provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
SOUTH PASADENA>> The South Pasadena Police Department Thursday recognized a 9-year-old boy who called 9-1-1 to help save his choking 3-year-old sister, as well as a good Samaritan and the first responders who also rushed to the aid of the choking child.
The frightening incident unfolded Sunday afternoon at the family’s home in the 1100 block of Pine Street, after the mother of 3-year-old Yalaena Santos noticed she was choking on a grape, South Pasadena police Sgt. Mike Neff said.
The panicked mother, Jennifer Santos, scooped up the child and rushed outside to find help, Neff said. She handed her 9-year-old son, Jaequon Santos, the phone and told him to call 9-1-1.
The boy told the dispatcher what was happening and provided the address, Neff said. “He did a great job.”
Meanwhile, Max Storer, a local man on his way to work at Starbucks noticed the mother and daughter in distress and stopped to help, Neff said. He performed CPR on the choking girl prior to the arrival of police and fire officials.
Police arrived at the scene in about one minute, but were unable to dislodge the grape lodged in the child’s throat, police officials said in a written statement. Firefighters arrived about two minutes later, but were also unable to extract the grape.
So firefighters blocked intersections as firefighters rushed the girl, still struggling to breathe, about three miles to Huntington Hospital in Arcadia, police said.
“In the emergency room, (Huntington Hospital) doctors and staff were able to successfully remove the obstruction and the victim was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit,” according to the police statement. “The victim has since fully recovered with no adverse outcome.”
South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller hosted a ceremony Thursday at South Pasadena City Hall to recognize those involved in saving the girl’s life, as well as give the family a chance to meet with the police and firefighters involved in the rescue.
Jaequon Santos and Storer were presented with certificates of appreciation, Neff said. The boy was also given a remote control police car, and his sister received a pink blanket.
“The good Samaritan trying to help, what a good guy,” Neff said.
As a result of the experience, Neff added that the mother had signed up to participate in a first-aid class at the South Pasadena Police Department, and encouraged other parents to do the same in case of a medical emergency.
First responders honored for their parts in the incident included South Pasadena police officers Darren Wong, Tom Jacobs and Louie Cetro, as well as South Pasadena police dispatchers Stephanie Barrientos and Catalina Valdez and South Pasadena Fire Department Capt. Eric Zanteson, paramedics Dan Dunn and Matt Robertson and engineers Mike Larkin and Rocky Bergstrom.
SOUTH PASADENA — Police ticketed 21 drivers Friday during a pedestrian safety sting along Mission Street, officials said.
The operation was held from 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. at a crosswalk spanning Mission Street at Fairview Avenue, South Pasadena police Sgt. Tony Abdalla said.
A detective dressed in street clothes strolled across the street as fellow officers watched for driver’s who failed to stop and yield to the pedestrian, the sergeant said.
Police issues 18 citations for failing to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, as well as three tickets for illegal cell phone use, Abdalla said. Another three drivers were warned but not cited.
SOUTH PASADENA — Police are seeking two masked men who attacked and robbed a teenager late Thursday, officials said.
An 18-year-old South Pasadena man was walking about 8 p.m. in the 500 block of Magnolia Street when he noticed a masked man in front of him and changed direction to avoid the suspicious person, South Pasadena police Detective Richard Lee said.
But the masked attacker ran up to the victim and began hitting him, Lee said. A second masked man approached, pointed a handgun at the victim and demanded his money.
The victim turned over about $20 and his cell phone, Sgt. Tony Abdalla said. But the picky robbers took only the cash and fled, leaving the cell phone behind.
Abdalla said the robbery victim declined to be taken to a hospital.
Police described one robber as male, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 165 pounds. He wore an orange raincoat-style jacket with a dark hood, dark colored pants and a fabric mask over his face.
The second robber as about 5 feet 6 inches tall and 190 pounds. He wore all dark clothing with a hood over his head and a fabric mask over his face, and he carried a black, semi-automatic handgun.
SOUTH PASADENA — Police jailed a Pasadena man Wednesday on suspicion of stealing mail from at least a dozen South Pasadena residents over the past week, officials said.
Efrain DeSoto Jr., 24, was booked on suspicion of mail theft, receiving stolen property, possession of methamphetamine and driving on a suspended license after he was pulled over by South Pasadena police about 3:55 p.m. at Hill Drive and Collis Avenue, Detective Richard Lee said in a written statement.
Officers noticed DeSoto and his 1994 Chevrolet Trailblazer matched the description given in connection with the theft of mail from several homes in the 1900 block of Alpha Avenue a week ago, Lee said. Police stopped him for a traffic violation and discovered he was driving on a suspended license.
In the center console of DeSoto’s SUV, police found methamphetamine, a glass smoking pipe and mail belonging to other people, the detective said.
“Additional mail — checks — and a bolt-cutter were found in the rear cargo area wrapped inside a shirt,” Lee said.
The mail was addressed to alleged victims throughout the San Gabriel Valley, police said.
Twelve apparent victims had been identified Thursday, Cpl. Matthew Ronnie said.
DeSoto admitted to police that he had just stolen mail before he was pulled over, Lee said. He also admitted stealing the mail last week.
According to county booking records, DeSoto was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.
PHOTO of Efrain DeSoto Jr., 24, of Pasadena courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department.
SOUTH PASADENA — Police Wednesday arrested three South Pasadena High School students accused of breaking into Marengo Elementary School and stealing iPads over the weekend, officials said.
The three teenage boys are suspected of a weekend burglary, which was first discovered Monday at Marengo Elementary School, 1400 Marengo Avenue, South Pasadena police Sgt. Brian Solinsky said. All three were 17 years old. Their names were withheld due to their age.
Police responded to the elementary school campus shortly before 1 p.m. Monday to investigate a break-in, Solinsky said.
“It was determined someone entered two of the classrooms over the previous weekend and stole five Apple iPads,” the sergeant said.
“During the investigation, several witnesses came forward to provide information, which led to the identification of three south Pasadena High School students,” Solinsky said. They were arrested Wednesday either at school or at home.
“Three of the missing iPads were located and recovered,” he said. “The other two were discarded by one of the students shortly after the theft.”
The teens were arrested on suspicion of commercial burglary and released to their parents with court dates, officials said.
SOUTH PASADENA — A 3-year-old girl was hospitalized in critical condition but expected to recover after choking on a grape Thursday afternoon, officials said.
A panicked mother called 9-1-1 about 4 p.m. to report her daughter was choking on a grape at a home in the 1100 block of Pine Street, South Pasadena police Cpl. Matthew Ronnie said.
South Pasadena police and paramedics arrived to find the girl unconscious and struggling to breathe, he said.
“The obstruction could not be located or removed at the scene,” the corporal said.
So paramedics loaded the girl into an ambulance and police blocked intersections with their squad cars as rescuers rushed the choking victim to the hospital, he said.
Once at the hospital, doctors were able to remove the grape from the child’s throat, Ronnie said.
She remained in critical condition late Thursday, he said. “They believe she’s going to recover.”
SOUTH PASADENA — Authorities are investigating the death of an Altadena man who was struck by a Metro Gold Line train Saturday.
The fatal incident took place just after 4:10 p.m. near Monterey Road and Pasadena Avenue, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Transportation Services Bureau spokesman Ramon Montenegro said.
The name of the dead man was not released Sunday pending notification of his family, coroner’s officials said. He was described as 57 years old.
A witness account indicated the man was standing on the tracks between two crossing arms, which were believed to be down and working properly, when struck by the northbound commuter train, Montenegro said.
But the specific circumstances of the incident remained under investigation.
South Pasadena Fire Department paramedics rushed to the scene, South Pasadena police Sgt. Brian Solinsky said.
“All possible live-saving measures were attempted, and the victim succumbed to his injuries at the scene,” he said.
Service was briefly shut down between the Highland Park and Pasadena Gold Line station, and buses were used to transport passengers, Montenegro said. Service on the line was delayed for about 20 minutes.
PASADENA — Police working with a nonprofit community organization cited three stores in South Pasadena and one in Pasadena in recent weeks for selling alcohol to minors during a compliance check, officials said.
Officials made use of decoys to try and buy alcohol at 10 businesses in Pasadena on Nov. 22, as well as 10 businesses in South Pasadena on Dec. 13, representatives of the Pasadena-based nonprofit organization Day One said in a written statement.
One business in Pasadena, K + S Mobile at 1813 E. Colorado Boulevard, sold alcohol to the minor decoy, according to Day One.
Three businesses in South Pasadena failed the test, officials said. They were Big Lots, 1401 Huntington Drive; Ralphs, 1745 Garfield Ave.; and Carmines Italian Restaurant, 424 Fair Oaks Ave.
“Findings from studies conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism noted that underage alcohol use kills more young people than all illegal drugs combines,” according to the Day one statement.