Police arrested two cousins from San Gabriel on Thursday in connection with a West Covina bank robbery the previous day, and were looking into the possibility the suspects were also responsible for another bank heist in Baldwin Park last week, authorities said.
Ruben Edward Mora, 48, and James Vincent Luevano were booked on suspicion of bank robbery following their arrests on Thursday afternoon, according to West Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
The investigation began after a robbery unfolded about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Cathay Bank, 2672 E. Garvey Ave. South, West Covina police Sgt. Tony Cortina said.
A man entered the bank and gestured as if he had a gun, though none was seen, the sergeant said. He threatened to shoot a teller and demanded cash.
He fled the bank after obtaining $1,900, Cortina said. He was last seen getting into a car, which sped away.
“Our patrol officers canvassed the area for witnesses and evidence,” Cortina said. The obtained surveillance camera images depicting both the suspect and the getaway car.
As they continued their investigation, detectives found the car pictured in the surveillance images parked in the driveway of a home in the 5000 block of North Rosemead Boulevard in San Gabriel, police said.
They watched the car until a man exited the home and drove away in it, according to Cortina. Police pulled over the car and soon determined the driver, Luevano, had acted as the getaway driver in Wednesday’s bank robbery, he said.
Police also determined that the second suspect, who carried out the robbery, Mora, was inside the home, Cortina said. Officers ordered him out of the home and took him into custody without a struggle.
Officials recovered the allegedly stolen cash from the home, which is shared by the two cousins.
Investigators also found that Mora strongly matched the description of a robber who carried out a robbery at the HomeStreet Bank, 3119 Baldwin Park Blvd. in Baldwin Park, Cortina said. Authorities were looking into the West Covina robbery suspect’s possible connection to the Baldwin Park crime.
According to booking records, Mora was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail his initial court appearance, while Luevano was being held in lieu of $30,000 bail.
A jury convicted a A Valinda man of drunken driving and leading West Covina police on a pursuit that ended in a crash that left 10 people hurt, officials said.
The Pomona jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Robert Anthony Lopez, 27, guilty of fleeing police in a motor vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury within 10 years of a previous DUI offense and driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08 percent causing injury within 10 years of a previous DUI offense, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in an email. He pleaded “no contest” earlier to driving on a suspended or revoked license following a previous offense.
Nine innocent bystanders, as well as Lopez himself, suffered injuries in the July 18, 2016, crash at Francisquito and Walnut avenues, in the unincorporated county area of Valinda.
He faces up to 24 years behind bars when he returns to the Pomona Branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Ardalani said.
The chase started in West Covina, where police tried to pull Lopez over in an Acura for speeding and blowing through a stop sign, Ardalani said in a written statement.
Lopez ultimately crashed into a Nissan Maxima, which spun out of control and struck a Ford Expedition,
A woman inside the Nissan and her to young daughters were hurt, along with a drive and five passengers inside the Ford, California Highway Patrol officials said.
Firefighters had to free freed Lopez from his mangled car, officials said.
According to prosecutors, Lopez was previously convicted of reckless driving and driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08 percent in 2015.
PHOTO courtesy Saul Sanchez
COVINA >> The community is invited to join Covina and West Covina cops for a night of festivities as the police departments host their National Night Out event early next month.
Officers will join law enforcement agencies throughout the nation in setting aside time to get to know their neighbors with community events. National Night Out is traditionally held on the first Tuesday of August, which falls this year on Aug. 1.
Covina’a event will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Heritage Plaza Park, Heritage Plaza Park, 400 N. Citrus Ave., police said in a statement.
It will feature food, station and vehicle tours, a K-9 demonstration and meet-and-greet with K-9 Jarno, kids’ activities, information booths and more, organizers said.
Live classic rock music will be provided by “Thief.”
For more information, visit www.covinaca.gov.
Next door in West Covina, officials are planning to kick off their National Night Out event at 5 p.m. at the Plaza West Covina shopping mall, 112 Plaza Drive.
“Plaza West Covina values its partnership with the West Covina Police Department, and that we have the opportunity to do our part in helping the fight against crime,” Plaza West Covina Marketing Director Lisa Avakian said in written statement. “The police officers welcome all questions from the community and will be on hand to give safety tips on ways West Covina a safer place to live.”
A DJ, raffles and giveaways will be part of the festivities, organizers said.
“In West Covina, we have approximately 15 different venues who will sponsor National Night Out events, including apartment complexes and neighborhood watch groups,” then-West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said in a written statement. “This year, we are happy to team up with Plaza West Covina and that it is a family-friendly event.”
For more information on West Covina’s National Night Out event, contact Gilbert Amis or Renee Schultzl at 626-939-8515, or visit www.westcovina.org/departments/west-covina-national-night-out.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the correct start time and contact persons for the National Night Out event in West Covina.
WEST COVINA >> A judge sent two men to prison for the rest of their lives on Friday for fatally shooting a man visiting the U.S. from Hong Kong during a robbery after following him and his brother to a West Covina restaurant from a downtown Los Angeles jewelry store, authorities said.
Michael Quiroga Castiblanco, 25, and Juan Alejandro Cortez, 28, each received sentenced of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Feb. 1, 2013, murder of 29-year-old Sheron Khemlani in a parking lot in the 100 block of North Barranca Avenue in West Covina, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
A jury convicted them Monday of first-degree murder and second-degree robbery, along with the special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed during a robbery, and the special allegation that a gun was used in the crime, Ardalani said in a written statement.
“According to evidence presented at trial, the two defendants were part of an organized criminal group that targeted jewelers and individuals who made large cash withdrawals from banks,” Ardalani said. “Moreover,the group followed the Khemlani brothers from downtown Los Angeles to West Covina with the intent to rob them.”
Khemlani and his 32-year-old brother were in the jewelry industry and visiting from Hong Kong at the time of the slaying.
They had gone just conducted some business in the jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles prior to the fatal robbery, Ardalani said.
They were on their way to Las Vegas, but decided to stop in West Covina for lunch, according to police and prosecutors.
“When the brothers returned to their vehicle, they were attacked by a group of men,” Ardalani said. “During the assault, Sheron Khemlani was fatally shot in the head before the attackers fled the scene in a vehicle.”
The victim’s brother was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
Stolen was a bag containing $9,000, Ardalani said.
The case remained unsolved for more than a year until investigators identified Castiblanco and Cortez as suspects in the deadly robbery, officials said. Detectives released composite sketches of the suspects in hopes of generating leads prior to the apprehension of the killers.
Prosecutors filed charges against them in March of 2014, and they were both arrested in May of 2014, records show.
Details of the suspect’s capture were not available.
Castiblanco also has a pending case with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to booking records.
West Covina, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Torrance, Cypress and Evanston, Illinois, police took part in the investigation, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
WEST COVINA >> Detectives arrested two men and dismantled a large-scale drug distribution ring operating out of a home in an affluent West Covina neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.
An ongoing narcotics investigation led investigators to show with a search warrant about 5 p.m. at the home in the 2700 block of South Citrus Street, in the South Hills neighborhood, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
There, officers discovered 120 pounds of methamphetamine, 17.6 pounds of cocaine and 110 pounds of marijuana, he said.
The massive amount of drugs seized at the “very sophisticated drug operation” required a truck to transport, the according to the lieutenant.
Packaging materials and other evidence of a large-scale drug sales operation were also found at the home, officials said.
Two men were arrested at the home without a struggle, police said.
Ceasar Eduardo Santiesteban, 24, of Los Angeles and Erik Alejandro Martinez, 41, of Fresno, were booked on suspicion of possession of drugs for sales, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.
They were being held in lieu of $2 million bail each pending their initial court appearances.
INDUSTRY >> Detectives following up on an Industry attempted burglary investigation arrested two men and seized two pounds of methamphetamine, a large amount of marijuana, cocaine, three guns and stolen property while carrying out a search warrant in West Covina on Tuesday, authorities said.
The bust took place in the morning at a home in West Covina, Capt. Tim Murakami of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Industry Station said.
Detectives had obtained a search warrant from the home as part of an investigation into a burglary attempt that took place in Industry about a week earlier, the captain said. Would-be burglars had rammed a rental car into the roll-up door of a business in an unsuccessful attempt to break in.
While serving the warrant, investigators found more than they had bargained for.
Recovered was a sawed-off shotgun, two stolen handguns, about two pounds of methamphetamine, a large amount of marijuana, cocaine, stolen property and a ski mask, according to Murakami.
In addition, deputies seized equipment used to both grow marijuana, as well as process it into concentrated “honey oil,” he said.
Two men at the home were arrested on suspicion of multiple felony gun and drug charges, Murakami said. Their identities were not available Wednesday afternoon.
PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
WEST COVINA >> Authorities have identified a 62-year-old woman who was found dead inside her West Covina townhome following a fire on Tuesday morning.
Grace Han Wu was pronounced dead at the scene of the fire, which broke out just after 7 a.m. in the 1300 block of East Parkside Circle, according to Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter.
A second person escaped from the burning home unharmed, Assistant Fire Chief Brian McDermott said.
The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to Wu’s home and minor damage to two adjacent units, Fire Chief Larry Whithorn said.
West Covina firefighters, who were aided by Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters, extinguished the flames within 30 minutes, officials said.
Once the fire was out, officials discovered Wu’s body, West Covina police spokesman Rudy Lopez said.
Her cause of death remained under investigation by coroner’s officials, while the cause of the fire was being investigated by the West Covina Fire Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arson investigators.
PHOTO by Walt Mancini
Nearly 100 law enforcement officers from local, county and state agencies carried out 36 searches and made 17 arrests during a parole and probation compliance sweep in the central San Gabriel Valley on Thursday morning.
The series of raids focused primarily on the West Covina and La Puente areas, including the surrounding unincorporated county areas, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
The operation was spearheaded by Los Angeles County sheriff’s La Puente Special Assignment Team and the West Covina Police Department, with help from agencies including Irwindale police, Azusa police, state parole officials and prison investigators, county probation officers and officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, according to sheriff’s Lt. Pete Cacheiro.
The arrests were for alleged crimes including drug violations, gang injunction violations, parole violations, probation violations and outstanding warrants, Cacheiro said.
“We specifically targeted individuals that had a nexus to gang related crimes,” Patton said.
The majority of the homes visited by police and deputies on Thursday were those of probationers or parolees, though some of the visits were the result of investigative leads, he added.
The task force set out to focus on emerging crime trends, as well as, “to bring a better sense of quality of life back to our communities,” Patton said.
“As we realize crime has no boundaries, our partnerships with our allied partners allow us to effective combat those quality of life issues,” Patton said.
La Puente Mayor Valerie Munoz applauded the effort.
“Our priorities are to safeguard our residents,” she said. “La Puente appreciated the efforts of our sheriff’s department and their collaboration with our surrounding municipal police agencies.”
PHOTO: Law enforcement officers prepare to visit three-dozen locations, primarily homes of probationers and parolees, during a compliance sweep in the La Puente and West Covina areas on Thursday, May 25, 2017. (Courtesy, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)
WEST COVINA >> Authorities have released the identity of a La Puente man who died in a three-car crash in West Covina last weekend.
Michael Moses Saavedra, 50, died shortly after the 11:55 a.m. crash on May 13 at Lark Ellen and Puente avenues, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator Rudy Molano said.
He was at the wheel of a 1960s-model Chevrolet Impala that was believed to have run through a red light and crashed into two other cars, according to West Covina police Lt. Ron Allen.
Saavedra had to be cut free from the wreckage by firefighters, he said. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A man driving one of the vehicles struck by the Impala was treated for significant injuries, while a woman and child riding as passenger in that car suffered injuries described as minor, Allen said. The driver of the second car struck by the Impala suffered minor injuries.
The Impala was southbound on Lark Ellen avenue when it passed through a red light at Puente Avenue, Allen said.
Though the first vehicle struck by the Impala was initially described by police as being in the left-turn lane from southbound Lark Ellen avenue to Puente Avenue, it was later determined the car was struck broadside while traveling on Puente Avenue, Allen said. The Impala then continued moving and struck a second car, which was in the left-turn lane from northbound Lark Ellen Avenue to Puente Avenue.
Police suspected Saavedra may have been driving under the influence at the time of the crash, Allen said.
Police are asking the public’s help in finding a West Covina man suffering from dementia who went missing in after leaving a hospital in Baldwin Park on Saturday morning.
Jerry Quinton Williams, 73, was last seen at the Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center, 1011 Baldwin Park Blvd., during the early-morning hours, West Covina police officials said in a written statement. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
“(Williams) suffers from early stages of dementia and needs ongoing medical attention,” according to the statement.
Williams was driving a Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck with a license plate of 84733X1. He’s described as black, 6 feet 3 inches tall, 210 pounds, with a goatee and piercing in his left ear. He was last seen wearing red and black gym shorts.
Anyone who spots the missing person is urged to call 911 or contact local police immediately.
PHOTO: Missing person Jerry Quinton Williams, 73, of West Covina. (Courtesy, West Covina Police Department)