Man suspected in arson spree in Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Walnut


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY >> A man is accused of lighting a series of seven fires inside the restrooms of open businesses in an unusually brazen arson spree in recent weeks in Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights and Walnut, authorities said.
Deputies arrested David Lin, 42, Tuesday, Sgt. John Hanson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail said.
He had been sought in connection with a string of fires that began in December, the sergeant said. Three of the alleged fires occurred Tuesday alone.
Though the fires remained confined to the restrooms they were lit in, the suspect’s reckless and bold behavior was deeply concerning, arsonist profiler Detective Ed Nordskog of the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail said.
“For somebody to go into an open business during business hours and light a fire, it’s really rare, even for serial arsonists,” Nordskog said.
“What he does is so high-risk” the detective added. “He’s a rare breed. That makes him dangerous.”
No injuries were reported in the fires, Hanson said.
Detectives first became aware of an arsonist operating in the area when they were called to investigate a fire lit Jan. 29 in the bathroom of L & L Hawaiian Barbecue, 515 S. Gran Avenue in Walnut, Hanson said. Someone set fire to paper items such as toilet paper and toilet seat covers, inside the bathroom.
The following day, another similar fire erupted in a bathroom at Office Depot, 17450 Colima Road in Rowland Heights, Hanson said. The flames caused at least $2,000 in damage before fire sprinklers and firefighters extinguished it.
Detectives learned that another similar fire had taken place in December at the Rolling Wok restaurant, 18382 Colima Road in Rowland Heights, as well as at the Guppy House restaurant, 17188 Colima Road in Hacienda Heights, on Jan. 27, the sergeant said.
A break in the case Tuesday, as the suspect accelerated his arson spree, Hanson said. Three similar bathroom fires were reported Tuesday at McDonalds, 19775 Colima Road in Rowland Heights; Del Taco, 21060 Golden Springs Drive in Rowland Heights; and finally at Ten Ren’s Tea Time, 515 S. Grand Ave. in Rowland Heights.
But as the fires were igniting Tuesday, detectives were managed to identify a suspect through surveillance images, witness statement and booking photos from previous arrests. A bulletin was sent out to patrol deputies, who spotted Lin driving Tuesday afternoon.
Lin led deputies on a brief chase before pulling over and surrendering in the parking lot of a Rowland Heights supermarket, Hanson said. During the pursuit, he allegedly through methamphetamine from the car.
He was booked on suspicion of one count of arson for the tea house fire, felony evading of police and drug possession, Hanson said. Addition charges for the other six arson fires were expected to come later.
Lin, described as a former West Covina resident who has been living out of his car in recent months, was being held in lieu of $35,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Thursday in Pomona Superior Court, records show. But Lin’s bail is likely to increase as additional charges are added later.

BOOKING PHOTO of San Gabriel Valley arson spree suspect Davin Lin, 42.(Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

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Officials: Car sought in connection with fatal street racing crash in Walnut

WALNUT >> Investigators reached out to the public Friday for information into a fatal crash in Walnut last week believed to have occurred during an illegal street race, authorities said.
The crash took place about 6 p.m. on Nov. 13 at Amar Road, just east of Alta Sierra Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Investigator Paul Alaniz said in a written statement.
A Honda believed to have been racing another car collided with a third car before slamming into a stationary object, Lt. Frank Rivera said. The impact through the Honda driver from his vehicle. The car believed to be racing the Honda continued driving.
Officials rushed a badly injured Honda driver to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries Sunday, officials said. His name was not available Friday.
The driver of the car struck by the Honda suffered only minor injuries, Rivera said.
Deputies were told by witnesses that the Honda appeared to have been racing another car when the crash took place, officials said.
“The vehicle was described as a black Acura Integra, or possible a 1990s Honda Civic, two-door,” Alaniz said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Investigator Alaniz at 909-595-2264. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Walnut man killed in solo-car crash

WALNUT — A 68-year-old Walnut man died late Saturday after his vehicle struck a utility pole near Mt. SAC, authorities said.
Loi Van Nguyen died at the scene of the crash, which took place about 7 p.m. on Temple Avenue at Service Road, according to Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said and California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada.
No further details were available regarding the crash, which was being investigated by the Baldwin Park Office of the CHP.

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UPDATED — Walnut carjacking suspect arrested after hit-and-run, burglaries in West Covina

A Walnut carjacking suspect fleeing the scene of a crash broke into two homes, startling residents, and was trying to break into a third when police arrested him Thursday, authorities said.
Joseph Zavala, 24, of North Hollywood was ultimately arrested on suspicion of carjacking, felony hit-and-run, burglary and possession of stolen property, West Covina police Lt. Pat Cirrito said.
The incident kicked off about 2:40 p.m. when the suspect grabbed a set of keys from a woman at a gas station at Pierre Road and Valley Boulevard in Walnut, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said. He fled with the woman’s Toyota sedan, he said. The woman was not injured.
About five minutes later, police in West Covina received a report of a hit-and-run car crash at Grand Avenue and Cortez street, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said. A woman had suffered a minor injury in the collision when the suspect struck her vehicle, then ran from the scene.
Officials soon linked the car Zavala had been driving to the earlier carjacking, Patton said.
Zavala arrived at a home in the 500 block of Grand Avenue, the lieutenant said. “He removed the window screen and entered the residence, where he was confronted by the homeowners.” The residents managed to chase the intruder away, however further details of the encounter were not immediately available.
Patton said the fleeing suspect then showed up at a second home in the 600 block of Ferrari Way, “…where he broke a window of that residence. He entered into that structure, where he confronted the female resident, who feared for her safety and fled from her residence.”
Zavala helped himself to the woman’s refrigerator before continuing to run, Patton said.
Officers caught up with the man as he was breaking a window of a garage in the 600 block of Wrede Lane, Patton said. He was taken into custody without a struggle.
Officials took Zavala to a hospital for treatment of injuries suffered in the crash and the break-ins prior to booking him into jail, Patton said.
Investigators were also looking into the possibility the suspect was under the influence of methamphetamine during the incident.

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Walnut man admits being gang ‘shotcaller,’ faces 27 years in prison

LOS ANGELES >> A Walnut man and “shotcaller” of a South Los Angeles street gang faces 27 years in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to federal racketeering and dug trafficking charges for helping the gang’s incarcerated leader continue managing the gang from behind bars, authorities said.
Manuel Valencia, 38, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and “engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise connected to drug trafficking,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
Valencia, who could have faced life in prison if convicted at trial, is expected to receive 27 years in prison when he returns to federal court in Los Angeles for sentencing Sept. 8, officials said. He admitted to being a shotcaller for the Harpys street gang, one of more than a dozen Latino gangs in the South Los Angeles Area controlled by imprisoned Mexican Mafia member Danny Roman.
Acting on the orders of Roman, who is serving a life sentence at Pelican State Prison, Valencia, “admitted that he oversaw and participated in gang activities, which included collecting ‘taxes’ from drug dealers who were allowed to operate in gang territory, retaliating against people who ran afoul of the gang and engaging in drug trafficking,” Mrozek said.
Valencia’s plea comes a week after Roman’s daughter, 37-year-old Vianna Roman of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to racketeering, drug and weapons offenses for “acting as a conduit for her father’s orders as he exercised control of the Harpys gang,” Mrozek added.
Vianna Roman is expected to receive 20 years in prison when she returns to court for sentencing July 28, Mrozek said, though additional prison time is possible if deemed appropriate by U.S. District Judge R. Hary Klausner.
The guilty pleas come as a result of a 2-year-old indictment against 29 defendants, officials said. Of those originally charged in the indictment, 24 have pleaded guilty, one is awaiting trial, three are fugitives and one had charges dismissed after being convicted of murder in an unrelated case.

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Trial begins for woman accused of stabbing estranged husband to death in Walnut


POMONA >> Trial is underway in Pomona for a woman accused of stabbing her estranged husband to death inside his Walnut home in 2011.
George Mora, 47, had already obtained a restraining order against now-46-year-old Socorro Mora when she allegedly stabbed him to death on the morning of Oct. 19, 2011, in the home where he lived with the couple’s four children in the 21600 block of Brookside Court in Walnut.
Opening statements in the case were heard Thursday in Pomona Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said. The trial continued Friday with prosecution testimony.
The slaying came at the end of more than a month of escalating violence perpetrated by Socorro Mora against her husband, prosectors and investigators allege.
In addition to the killing, she’s accused of showing up at George Mora’s house and fatally stabbing the family dog three weeks prior to the killing on Sept. 24, 2011, according to Deputy District Attorney Taraneh Saba . A previous domestic violence incident on Sept. 13, 2011, had prompted Mora to get a restraining order against his wife.
Socorro Mora has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, animal cruelty and domestic violence.
Deputies responded to the home after she called 9-1-1 and reported domestic violence, investigators said. She was found in the front yard suffering from stab wounds, though it was not clear if they were self-inflicted or suffered while struggling with her estranged husband.
Family members said the couple had been married for 18 years and had separated about two months prior to the slaying.
They had two sons and two daughters, who were between 8 and 16 years old at the time of the killing. They were not home when the stabbing occurred.

PHOTO of George Mora: Courtesy

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Walnut man pulls woman from bottom of hotel swimming pool in Whittier

WHITTIER >> A Walnut man said a series of coincidences led to him being in the right place at the right time to pull an unconscious woman from the bottom of a hotel swimming pool in Whittier late Thursday.
Mike Vargas, 33, sprung into action to help a young woman who found lifeless just before 9:40 p.m. at the bottom of the pool at the Radisson Hotel Whittier, 7320 Greenleaf Ave., according to officials and a witness.
The woman was “conscious and breathing” when paramedics arrived on scene, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Cheryl Sims said. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Vargas said a series of unexpected events led him to briefly stop by the Radisson late Thursday.
“I completely believe that it was divine intervention,” he said.
Vargas, a musician who raps under the stage name “Mikue,” had just left a Pico Rivera music studio and was heading to Uptown Whittier to meet a friend when the friend cancelled the meeting.
Vargas said he was thinking about stopping to see a movie when he pulled into the Radisson to use the restroom and get something to drink.
As Vargas was about to leave the hotel, he said he suddenly felt an urge to sit down on a bench and call his brother. “It was like a hit a brick wall,” he said. He had been sitting for about a minute when two women entered the lobby.
The women did not speak English, but frantically motioned for the clerk to follow them to the pool area, Vargas said. “I figured maybe there was a child who slipped and fell.”
But when Vargas and a hotel manager reached the pool, they saw the woman who appeared to be in her late-teens or early-20s lying curled up and motionless at the bottom of the deep end.
“It looked like she was just resting there,” he said. “There were no bubbles. No struggle. She was just lifeless down there.”
“I came back to my senses and realized what was going on, and I just jumped in,” Vargas said.
Vargas said the woman showed no signs of life once Vargas pulled her back onto the ground. After another bystander tried unsuccessfully to perform CPR, Vargas said he began administering chest compressions.
After four or five pumps, he said, the woman began to cough up water. “Within a minute, the police and fire departments showed up.”
An update on the woman’s condition was not available, nor were any officials details regarding how she ended up at the bottom of the pool.
But Vargas said he believed he knew how it was that he came to cross paths with the woman.
“I believe God intervened. That’s what my belief is.”

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UPDATED: Power outage prompts cancellation of evening classes at Mt. SAC; 3,000 customers affected

WALNUT >> A widespread power outage turned out the lights in and around Mt. San Antonio College, officials said.
Evening classes at the college were cancelled as a result of the outage, Mt. SAC officials said on the campus website.
The outage, which was first reported about 6:30 p.m., knocked out electricity to 3,000 Southern California Edison customers, including the college, SCE officials said.
Equipment problems caused the outage, however a more specific cause was not available, SCE spokesman Paul Netter said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said lights were beginning to turn back on in the affected area about 7:45 p.m.
Crews worked to identify the problem and restore power as quickly as possible, Netter said.
All power was restored by 8:37 p.m., he said.

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Robbery suspect fatally shot by deputies after chase from Walnut to West Covina

Deputies shot and killed a robbery suspect Thursday following a pursuit from Walnut to West Covina, authorities said.
The identity of the man who died in the 5:15 p.m. deputy-involved shooting in the 19100 block of Elberland Street remained unclear late Thursday as detectives continued investigating multiple scenes Thursday night.
The incident began shortly before 5 p.m. when a man called 9-1-1 to report an apparent home-invasion robbery in the area of Lemon Avenue and Amar Road in Walnut, Lt. Steve Jauch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
“A man said his mother was having money demanded from her,” Jauch said. The caller reported the man was armed with a handgun, and that a black car was parked in front of the home.
Deputies from the sheriff’s Walnut Station responded to the alleged robbery.
“As they neared the residence, a black vehicle matching the suspect description heads at them at a high rate of speed,” Jauch said. Deputies began chasing the car, which they later learned was occupied by a woman and a 5-year-old girl, in addition to the suspect.
The chase led to the parking lot of the Bestway Supermarket, 19050 La Puente Road, officials said, where the fleeing car crashed into a truck, destroying one of its tires.
The suspect got out of the car and ran in the front of the market and out of the back, Jauch said.
Deputies detained the woman in the parking lot and took the child into protective custody.
The man fled east into a nearby neighborhood, making his way through residential backyards, according to Jauch.
When the suspect encountered deputies in the back yard of a home at the corner of Elberland Street and Abelian Avenue, “a deputy-involved shooting occurred,” the lieutenant said. Further details regarding what prompted deputies to open fire were not clear.
More than one deputy was involved in the shooting, Jauch said, however the number of involved deputies was not available.
No weapon had been recovered from the scene late Thursday, he said, though deputies continued scouring the area and the pursuit route.
The woman detained at the end of the pursuit was considered criminal suspect, however it was not yet known exactly what crimes she was to be booked on suspicion of, Jauch said. Her name was not released.
The relationship between the man, woman and child was also unclear.
Nearby residents said they saw a group of deputies converge on the neighborhood from several directions just prior to the shooting.
Eugenia Montiel said as deputies approached the home, she saw a shirtless man come walking, not running, out of the backyard before apparently being chased back into the yard by deputies and cornered.
She then heard a string of gunshots in rapid succession, and saw the flash from the barrels of deputy’s pistols.
“I told my daughter, ‘Get down on the floor,’” she said.
Estimated given by neighbors of the number of shots they heard ranged from half a dozen to 18.
The investigation is being handled by detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.

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2nd UPDATE — Officials: Walnut woman escapes kidnapper after abduction from store parking lot

WALNUT — A woman escaped a parolee who carjacked and kidnapped her from the parking lot of a Walnut store late Thursday, though his ultimate intentions remained a mystery, authorities said.
The strange and brazen crime took place about 2 p.m. as Walnut woman was carjacked and abducted in the parking lot of T.J. Maxx at Grand Avenue and Valley Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said.
The woman, a Walnut resident in her late-30s who was a stranger to the suspect, left the store and was getting into her car when she was confronted by a man holding what was later found to be a realistic-looking BB gun, Detective Joseph Sanchez said. The man blocked her from closing her car door once she got in, Detective Joseph Sanchez said.
“He forced himself into her car,” the detective said. “He climbed over her, got into the passenger seat and told her to just drive.”
The woman resisted at first, but ultimately relented to the man’s demand, he said.
“He had her basically drive around aimlessly for an hour and a half,” Sanchez said.
As the suspect forced the woman to drive through South Los Angeles, she spotted a police car along Wall Street in South Los Angeles and saw an opportunity to escape, officials said.
“She saw a black-and-white and decided to get out of the car and run and ask for help,” Sanchez said.
Los Angeles police detained the suspect without a struggle and turned him over to sheriff’s deputies, he added. A BB gun that resembled a Beretta 9mm handgun was seized from the suspect during his arrest.
Deputies first responded to the Walnut T.J. Maxx store after witnesses reported seeing the alleged abduction, Lt. John Saleeby said.
“A woman was heard saying she needed help and witnesses said her and a male drove off in a car,” Saleeby said. “The impression was he forced her to drive off.”
Investigators withheld the alleged kidnapper’s name Friday as they continued seeking witnesses, as well as any other potential victims who may have had suspicious encounter with the suspect, Lt. Anthony Tachias said. He was described as a San Gabriel Valley man in his mid-30s.
The suspect was already on parole for carjacking and was being held without bail pending a scheduled arraignment Monday in Pomona Superior Court, officials said.
The motive in the kidnapping and carjacking, as well as the suspect’s ultimate intentions, were unclear, investigators said. Nothing was stolen from the woman, and she was not assaulted while in the suspect’s custody
“That’s an unknown factor here,” Tachias said. “He won’t talk to us. He never any indication to the victim as to what his intentions were.”
“He committed this act with no rhyme or reason,” the lieutenant added. “I’m just glad we got her back safely.”

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