Lakewood man killed in fiery West Covina crash that also killed Taiwanese fugitive identified


WEST COVINA >> Coroner’s officials have identified a Lakewood man who died in a fiery multi-car freeway wreck in West Covina last week along with a South Pasadena man described as one of Taiwan’s most wanted fugitives, authorities said.
Gregory Donald Smith, 69, died at the scene of the crash, which took place about 1 a.m. on May 27 on the westbound 10 Freeway, just east of Citrus Avenue, said Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
He was unable to get out of his pickup truck following the crash. The truck became engulfed in flames.
An autopsy determined Smith died of “thermal burns,” and the death was ruled accidental, Winter said.
Also killed in the crash while driving another vehicle was 89-year-old You T. Wang, also identified by authorities as Wang You-theng, of South Pasadena.
Wang was in the middle of a decade-long court battle to avoid extradition to Taiwan, where he’s accused of embezzling more than $9 billion from a steel company called Rebar, which Wang founded in 1959. He allegedly drained the company’s assets and fled to the U.S. after the company when business took a sour turn in 2006.
Wang was ordered removed from the U.S. in late-2014 after years of litigation.
His appeal of that order was dismissed in December, but he then filed a petition for a review of his case by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
That review was yet to be heard when Wang was killed in last week’s crash.
The cause of the fiery five-car chain reaction, which resulted in two separate crash scenes, remained under investigation by the CHP.
It was initially believed to have been triggered when a Toyota Tacoma driven by Smith sideswiped a Lexus in the left-hand lane, initiating a series of collisions, CHP Officer Rodrigo Jimenez said.
Anyone with information can reach the Baldwin Park area office of the CHP at 626-338-1164.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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South Pasadena cop on first patrol and corporal rescue suicidal woman from freeway overpass


SOUTH PASADENA >> A South Pasadena police corporal and an officer on his first patrol rescued a suicidal woman who was threatening to jump from a freeway overpass Sunday afternoon, officials said.
The incident unfolded shortly after 6:10 p.m., when police received a report of a woman threatening to jump from the Prospect Avenue overpass of the 110 Freeway, South Pasadena police Sgt. Spencer Louie said in a written statement.
Nine-year department veteran Cpl. Juan Salcido and Officer Brian Wiley, who graduated Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Academy 412 on Friday and was out for his first day of patrol, found the woman sitting on the ledge, facing the freeway, he said.
“She was hysterical and yelling while she was talking on her cell phone, threatening to jump,” Louie said. “Seeing that she was distracted while talking on the phone, Cpl. Salcido approached the female subject and grabbed her around the waist to pull her off the ledge.
“She struggled momentarily with Cpl. Salcido and with the assistance of Officer Wiley, they were able to safely get her onto the sidewalk,” he said.
The woman, 20, was taken for psychiatric evaluation, police said.

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Parolee convicted of home-invasion robbery, attack on elderly South Pasadena woman


SOUTH PASADENA >> A jury convicted a parolee Wednesday of kidnapping and other charges in connection with a home-invasion robbery and attack targeting an elderly South Pasadena woman in 2012, officials said.
An Los Angeles County Superior Court Jury in Alhambra deliberated for less than a day before finding Alonzo Bernard Johnson, 53, of Los Angeles guilty of robbery, kidnapping to commit robbery and burglary in connection with the Aug. 6, 2012, crime at the victim’s home in the 1000 block of Indiana Avenue, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement. The jury also found true the special allegations that Johnson used a knife in the crime, and that he inflicted great bodily injury on his 79-year-old victim.
Johnson entered the victim’s home and asked if he could charge his cell phone, South Pasadena police Cpl. Matthew Ronnie said.
When the woman told Johnson to leave, he attacked the woman, breaking her nose, and pulled out a knife, according to police and district attorney’s officials.
“Johnson demanded money from the victim in her kitchen and then pulled her to the bedroom while using a knife, where he forced her to lay face down on her bed and attempted to tie her up with an electrical cord,” Ardalani said in the statement.
“Johnson repeatedly demanded that the victim give him jewelry as he continuously punched her in the head and face while threatening to kill her,” the statement continued The victim suffered brain bleed and a ruptured ear drum from the assault.”
As the victim continued struggling with Johnson, her 8- and 12-year-old grandchildren entered the house, and she called out for them to get help, Ardalani said. Johnson grabbed some jewelry and fled, but was soon apprehended across the city border in Los Angeles in the 5100 block of Huntington Drive, police said.
DNA evidence also led investigators to link Johnson to another home burglary that occurred in Pasadena on June 22, 2012, in which another elderly woman found Johnson rifling through her jewelry before he ran from her home, district attorney’s officials said..
Johnson had absconded from parole supervision for a previous robbery conviction at the time of the South Pasadena home invasion, and also had a prior burglary conviction, South Pasadena police Detective Bill Earley said.
Johnson faces the possibility of life in prison when he returns to court for sentencing June 17, officials said.

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Elderly woman visiting from Nepal goes missing in South Pasadena

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SOUTH PASADENA >> Police are seeking a 75-year-old woman visiting South Pasadena from Nepal who went missing Wednesday afternoon.
Ruk Bhandari was last seen about noon, walking away from her family’s home in the 1400 block of Grevalia Street, South Pasadena police officials said in a written statement.
“Ms. Bhandari is visiting from Nepal and only speaks Nepalese,” according to the statement.
She is 5 feet tall, 150 pounds, with brown eyes and gray shoulder-length hair. She was last seen wearing a skirt, with pants, and gold earrings.
Anyone with information is asked to contact South Pasadena police at 626-403-7297.

PHOTO of Ruk Bhandari courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department.

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Man sentenced for videotaped attack on Chihuahua at South Pasadena police station


SOUTH PASADENA >> A man who kicked and violently swung his Chihuahua in the lobby of the South Pasadena Police Department two months ago while department cameras recorded pleaded “no contest” to an animal cruelty charge, authorities said.
0407_NWS_PSN-L-CRUEL1Christian Andrew Najera, 48, of Los Angeles pleaded “no contest” to a misdemeanor count of cruelty to an animal in the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Alhambra branch, Los Angeles County district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Judge Rupa Goswami immediately sentenced Najera to 120 days in jail and three years of summary probation, officials said. He was also ordered to attend 24 animal cruelty classes and take part in a six-month residential treatment program through Assessment Intervention Resources.
“Furthermore, Najera cannot own, possess, maintain, reside with or care for an animal for five years,” according ti district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
The case stems from a bizarre incident that unfolded about 10 a.m. on Feb. 6 at the Pasadena Police Department, 1422 Mission Street, Pasadena police and district attorney’s officials said.
Police department surveillance camera video shows Najera walking into the lobby of the department with his 2-year-old Chihuahua, Daisy, on a leash.
Station personnel watched on a live video feed as Najera kicked the tiny dog, and swung it violently by its leash, police said.
A police clerk and a dispatcher followed the abuser — later identified as Najera — until officers took him into custody, according to South Pasadena police Capt. Mike Neff.
0407_NWS_PSN-L-CRUEL2It was unclear why Najera, who is believed to suffer from psychological problems and has a criminal history including previous violent crimes, went to the police station in the first place, police said.
The dog was placed in the care of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, police said. The injuries were not significant.

PHOTOS — Surveillance video, Christian Najera [top], “Daisy” the Chihuahua [below] and courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department.

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South Pasadena to host regional active shooter training exercise Friday


SOUTH PASADENA >> Police and fire officials from throughout the region will converge at South Pasadena Middle School Friday for an active shooter response training exercise, officials said.
Lifelike practice scenarios will take place from 8 a.m. to noon at the campus, 1500 Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena police Capt. Michael Neff said in a written statement.
“Active shooter events are some of the most challenging incidents that first responders face,” Neff said.
“This exercise represents over a year’s worth of planning, coordinating and training in Tactical Emergency Casualty Care by the seven agencies in preparation for the event and will focus on the quick and effective medical treatment of casualties within the area of operations.”
More than 75 first-responders from South Pasadena, Pasadena, Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, San Marino and the FBI will take part, Neff said.
Staff and students will not be at school Friday, as it is a scheduled staff development day, officials said.

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Roommates lock burglary suspect inside apartment in South Pasadena


SOUTH PASADENA >> Two quick-thinking roommates captured an alleged burglar by locking him inside their home until police arrived Thursday afternoon, officials said.
The incident unfolded about 3:15 p.m. as two men were outside their apartment in the 800 block of Meridian Avenue, South Pasadena police Cpl. Tom Jacobs said.
One of them spotted a man enter their home and recognized him as the same person who had broken in two weeks before, making off with a jacket and backpack, the corporal said.
“They closed the front door and held it shut, keeping the suspect inside,” he said.
The suspect remained trapped in the apartment until police arrived and took him into custody without a struggle, Jacobs said.
Elias Rodriguez, a 31-year-old transient known to frequent Los Angeles, was booked on suspicion of burglary, Jacobs said. He also had outstanding warrants for drug-related cases.

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UPDATED: Elderly South Pasadena woman fatally struck by car in church parking lot


SOUTH PASADENA >> An 86-year-old woman died after being struck, dragged and pinned by a car driven by a 93-year-old woman in a church parking lot Saturday afternoon as both women were leaving Mass, authorities said.
Killed was Elizabeth Cherry of South Pasadena, South Pasadena police Officer Jeff Holland said.
The “tragic accident” took place about 6:10 p.m. at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1527 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena police Sgt. Jim Valencia said.
Cherry was preparing to get into her car in the parking lot when the other woman, a Pasadena resident, struck her while backing up her Jaguar XJ6, he said.
Witnesses reported hearing the Jaguar’s engine revving steadily, as if the accelerator was being depressed, before the car shifted into reverse and lurched backward and toward the right, Holland said. The Jaguar sideswiped Cherry’s Toyota Avalon and struck her.
“The 86-year-old woman was dragged underneath the vehicle for over 100 feet until the vehicle came to rest after colliding with a block wall,” South Pasadena police officials said in a written statement.
Police said the elderly victim remained pinned beneath the Jaguar when first responders arrived at the scene.
Firefighters freed the badly injured woman from beneath the car and took her to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena for treatment, officials said.
The woman succumbed to her injuries at 8:20 p.m., Valencia said.
The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators, Holland said. She did not appear aware she had struck a person until afterward.
Officers from the South Pasadena Police Department’s Traffic Unit are continuing their investigation, though officials noted no overt signs pointing to a crime.

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South Pasadena police disarm mentally disturbed woman brandishing gardening shears


SOUTH PASADENA >> Police disarmed and detained a mentally disturbed woman Wednesday after she threatened to harm herself, then the officers, with a pair of gardening shears, officials said.
Officers first responded about 2:40 p.m. to the 600 block of Fair Oaks Avenue, just south of the 110 Freeway, after receiving reports of a woman walking down the street while screaming and acting violently, Pasadena police Sgt. Brian Solinsky said in a written statement. She was holding a pair of shears.
“Several officers responded and attempted to calm the woman, but were unsuccessful,” Solinsky said. “The woman grew more agitated and aggressive by the second, changing from holding the shears near her neck to pointing them at the officers and keeping them at bay.”
Officers managed to distract the woman long enough to allow another officer to rush up behind the woman, grab her arms and knock the shears away from her, the sergeant said.
Officials took the woman, 33, to a hospital for evaluation and treatment, he said. The sergeant praised the work of the officers in bringing the tense situation to a peaceful end.
“The officers showed amazing restraint in an incident that presented various tactical and officer safety dilemmas,” Solinsky said. “The officers were able to stop the woman before hurting herself or anyone else.”

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‘Bluto Bandit’ suspect, linked to 4-county bank robbery spree, charged federally

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LOS ANGELES >> A prolific serial bank robbery suspect known as the “Bluto Bandit” who was arrested following an ill-fated heist in South Pasadena Thursday has been charged in federal court, officials said Saturday.
Joseph Adel Noriega, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga is accused of eight bank robberies and attempted bank robberies, as well as numerous other incidents of “casing,” spanning Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties since June 10, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
His alleged crime spree came to an end Thursday after he tried, unsuccessfully to rob a South Pasadena bank before being captured minutes later by police in neighboring San Marino, according to South Pasadena police Cpl. Shannon Robledo.
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint Friday charging Noriega with the South Pasadena crime.
“However, the investigation is continuing and Noriega potentially faces additional charges,” FBI officials said in a written statement.
Crime attributed to the serial bandit have been reported in cities including Monrovia, Duarte, unincorporated Pasadena, Ontario, Chino, Norco, Fontana and Beaumont.
The FBI labeled the then-unidentified robber the Bluto Bandit due to a black fake beard he wore during the crimes, reminding investigators of the villain in the Popeye comic strips, Eimiller said.
The Bluto Bandit’s tactic, or modus operandi, was to pass a note demanding cash to bank tellers, officials said.
“In some robberies, the note advised the teller to remain calm; to remove the money within 15 or 30 seconds; or to avoid deploying security devices,” according to the FBI statement. “The suspect generally did not talk during the robberies.”
When San Marino police apprehended Noriega following a brief car chase Thursday, officers found evidence linking him to the crime spree, including bank robbery demand notes, officials said.
He was still wearing his trademark fake beard, Robledo added.
Noriega appeared in federal court in Los Angeles Friday and was remanded to federal custody pending trial, officials said.

Bank surveillance photo courtesy of the FBI.

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