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.
EAST VALINDA >> Foul play is not suspected in the death of a 51-year-old man whose body was found along Azusa Avenue late Saturday, authorities said.
Officials received a report about 10 p.m. that a man had been found unresponsive in front of a business in the 300 block of Azusa Avenue, just south of Temple Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. James Beamon said. The man, described as a transient, was believed to have been sleeping there.
Paramedics arrived on-scene and tried to treat the man, but he was ultimately pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m., the lieutenant said.
“It appears to be natural causes,” Beamon said.
Investigators from the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner will perform an autopsy.
WEST VALINDA — An alleged stun gun-wielding would-be robber was behind bars Wednesday with help from a gas station clerk who fought him off and ripped away his mask, exposing the robber’s face to surveillance cameras during a failed heist earlier this month, officials said.
Deputies arrested Eddie Gonzalez, 56, of La Puente Friday in connection with the March 4 robbery at a Mobile station at Valley Boulevard and Alderton Avenue in the unincorporated county area of West Valinda, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt/ Bob Boese said Wednesday in a written statement.
Prosecutors at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed charges of robbery, assault, vandalism and petty theft against Gonzalez, the sergeant said.
Gonzalez wore a bandana over his face and a sweat shirt hood over his head when he entered the gas station about 6:30 p.m. March 4, Boese said. He brandished a stun gun and demanded money from the clerk.
As the clerk collected cash from the register, Gonzalez pressed the stun gun against the clerk’s body and tried to jolt him, officials said.
“The clerk, seeing his opportunity, began to fight with the suspect,” Boese said. “During the struggle, the clerk was able to tear away the bandana covering the suspect’s face and pull off the shirts worn by the suspect. This enabled the store video cameras to capture video of the suspect.”
The clerk then ran from the gas station, locking Gonzalez inside, Boese said. Gonzalez drank several beers from the store’s cooler before smashing a window to flee.
Aided by the surveillance camera footage, which provided clear images of the robber, detectives identified Gonzalez as a suspect in the crime and arrested him on pre-existing warrants Friday, according to sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
Gonzalez was being held without bail pending a scheduled appearance Thursday in West Covina Superior Court, according to booking records.
EAST VALINDA — Deputies are seeking a gunman who shot and wounded two other men in a residential neighborhood Wednesday evening, officials said.
The shooting was reported about 8:15 p.m. in the 400 block of Lockmere Avenue in the unincorporated county area of East Valinda, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Raymond Enriquez said.
Three men in their 20s were walking along the street when a they were approached by a Latino man in his 20s with a shaved head driving a what was initially described as a Nissan Altima, the lieutenant said. Deputies received conflicting statements regarding the color of the car.
The attacker asked the group where they were from — a common gang challenge, officials said.
The victims, who are not believed to have gang ties, gave no response. But the gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun.
One of the men was shot three times in the back and twice in the arm, Enriquez said. He was listed in stable condition after undergoing surgery.
A second victim was struck twice in the leg and has since been treated and released from the hospital, while the third victim in the group was not struck by the gunfire.
The investigation was being handled by detectives from the sheriff’s Industry Station.
VALINDA — Three masked men struck and woman and a man with a shovel during a home-invasion robbery at a family’s home early Friday, officials said.
Family members heard a noise coming from their back door about 2:45 a.m. at their house in the 17100 block of Francisquito Ave., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Arthur Scott said.
A 42-year-old woman went to investigate the sound when she was confronted by three Asian men wearing ski masks, Scott said. One was armed with a rifle, and another held a shovel.
“She opened sliding door and got attacked with a shovel,” Scott said. The robbers then forced there way into the home and struck another resident, a 17-year-old boy, in the back with the shovel.
The robbers roused two other residents — a 43-year-old woman and an 8-year-old girl — from bed and ordered them to lie down with the other two victims in the front of the home, the lieutenant said.
“One suspect held them at gunpoint while the others went through the house,” Scott said. “They were in there about 15 minutes before they fled.”
It was not yet clear what may have been stolen from the ransacked house, he added.
Deputies uprooted 217 pot plants in Temple City, recovered two assault weapons and a handgun in Covina and arrested seven people with suspected ties to Asian organized crime Tuesday and Wednesday at the culmination of a month-long investigation, officials said.
Detectives, who had been watching the group of suspects from afar, made their move Tuesday afternoon, raiding an indoor marijuana grow inside a home in the 4800 block of Glickman Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s gang investigator Sgt. Steve Kim said.
Deputies found 217 pot plants being grown inside the home, he said. Ting Mo, 22, who told investigators she lived at the home, was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, along with Guan Mei, 29, of Los Angeles, who was detained as he was driving away from the home.
Earlier in the afternoon, deputies arrested two other men linked to the grow house after tracking them down in the area of 28th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach, Kim said. Zhen Huang, 29, of Rowland Heights and Man Chon, 31, of Valinda were booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana.
Deputies then headed to a home in the 100 block of West Arbor way that had also been linked to the pot grow, Kim said. Deputies recovered an AK-47-style rifle, an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun, however the suspect was not home. Deputies continued seeking him on suspcicion of cultivating marijuana and weapons violations.
As part of the investigation Tuesday, deputies also searched another home in the 4800 block of Glickman Avenue, as well as one in the 16900 block of Pocono Street in Valinda, Kim said. Nothing of significance was discovered at either home.
Finally, deputies arrested three men Wednesday afternoon when they arrived at the the grow house that had been raided the previous day, Kim said. Rueng Chen, 28, of Duarte, Haiqian Zhang, 24, of Los Angeles and Lesheng Zou, 20, of Los Angeles were also booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana.
The suspects were believed to have ties to the Chinese gang known as Red Door, Kim added.
All seven suspects were booked with bail amounts of $50,000, sheriff’s officials said.
All of the suspects are Chinese nationals, with the exception of Huang, who sheriff’s officials described as a naturalized American citizen.
VALINDA — An 8-month-old boy who died Friday is believed to have drowned after his mother left him and his siblings unattended in a bathtub, authorities said.
The baby was identified Sunday as Jedediah Turner, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Dana Bee said. He was 8 months and 6 days old.
Officials responded to a report of a baby drowning about 8:50 a.m. Friday at a home in the 1500 block of Pass and Covina Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
The unconscious baby was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later, authorities said.
“A preliminary investigation revealed the 25-year-old mother was bathing the infant in a bathtub along with his 1-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother,” according to the sheriff’s statement. “The mother left all three siblings unattended in the bathtub for about 10 to 15 minutes. When she returned, she found the 8-month-old face down in the water and not breathing.”
Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials took the baby’s siblings into protective custody as the investigation continues, officials added. No arrests had been made.
An autopsy to determine the baby’s official cause of death had not yet been carried out, Bee said.
No further information was released. The handling detective could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The case is being investigated by detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, and anyone with information was asked to contact the bureau at 323-890-5500.
VALINDA — Sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating the death of an 8-month-old baby who drowned Friday.
The incident happened at 8:50 a.m. in the 1500 block of Pass and Covina Road which is in the unincorporated county area.
Deputies said the infant was taken to a local hospital and later pronounced dead.
There were no other details released about the case.
– Ruby Gonzales
VALINDA — Both mother and baby appeared to be okay following a sudden delivery in a restaurant bathroom Tuesday, authorities said.
The mother, described as a 39-year-old local transient, was ultimately cited for misdemeanor child endangerment after she tested positive for drugs while at a hospital, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Michael Strickland said. The baby, whose sex was unavailable, was taken into protective custody by Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials
The baby was born just after 3 p.m. in a restroom inside of hamburger restaurant along Amar Road, just west of Echelon Avenue, sheriff’s officials said.
Deputies rushed to the scene in response to reports the woman may be trying to abandon or harm the newborn, however those concerns were determined to be unfounded, Strickland said.
“She had the baby in the restroom of the restaurant,” the lieutenant said. “She walked outside the bathroom and asked for help. She waited for us and she waited for paramedics.”
“It was determined there was no ill intent as far as the birth,” Strickland said.
WEST VALINDA — A car driven by an alleged drunken driver uprooted two trees and toppled a utility pole early Saturday, knocking out power to more than 1,300 nearby residents.
An 18-year-old Palm Springs man, whose name was not available Saturday afternoon, suffered minor injuries in the 6 a.m. crash on Sunset Avenue, just north of Amar Road, California Highway Patrol Officer Brian Axt said.
He was northbound when his car veered to the right side of the road, uprooting to trees and shearing a utility pole, the officer said.
Investigating CHP officers determined the man was under the influence of alcohol and arrested him, Axt said.
According to Southern California Edison, of the more than 1,300 customers who were initially without power due to the crash, about 330 remained without service Saturday afternoon. They were expected to have electricity restored by Saturday evening.