UPDATED: Man pronounced dead after solo-car crash in West Covina

WEST COVINA >> A man died at the scene of a solo-car crash in West Covina early Sunday, officials said.
The crash took place about 9 a.m. at Francisquito and Sunset avenues, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
The driver had not been positively identified, however he was believed to be a West Covina man in his mid-40s, West Covina police Sgt. Keith Shishido said.
“It appears that he was traveling westbound on Francisquito Avenue,” Patton said.
20140413_111944 (1)After traveling through the intersection, the older-model Toyota Camry struck brick wall in front of a home along the north side of Francisquito Avenue, just west of Sunset Avenue.
The car slid along the brick and metal gate, narrowly squeezing between the wall and a traffic signal pole and a tree before slamming into another tree along the sidewalk, Shishido said.
Paramedics found the badly injured driver slumped over the steering wheel, Patton said. “He was pronounced dead at the scene by fire personnel.”
“We’re relatively certain the speed had something to do with it,” Shishido said.
“There was a witness. The witness was indicating that the vehicle did appear to be traveling a little higher-than-normal rate of speed,” he said.
Police had not yet determined whether intoxicated driving was a factor in the fatal crash, Shishido.
No other vehicles were believed to be involved in the crash, the sergeant added.

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West Covina Sizzler robbed

WEST COVINA — Three masked men robbed a Sizzler restaurant early Thursday, officials said.
The crime took place shortly before 10 a.m. at the eatery in the 1100 block of West West Covina Parkway, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
Three robbers had at least one gun when they entered the restaurant and demanded money, Lopez said. They ultimately fled with an unknown amount of cash from the business’ safe.
The robbers were last seen running east from the restaurant, Lopez added. No getaway car was seen.
Police described them as three black men between 18 and 25 years old. All wore dark ski masks, hats and sunglasses, and all wore dark clothing.
Further details were not immediately available.

St. Patrick’s Day weekend DUI crackdown: checkpoints planned in Whittier, Pico Rivera, Arcadia, Pasadena unincorporated West Covina

LOS ANGELES COUNTY >> Law enforcement officers throughout Los Angeles County are gearing up for checkpoints and extra patrols seeking intoxicated drivers this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Checkpoints in Whittier, Pico Rivera, Arcadia, Pasadena and the unincorporated county area of West Covina are just five of the 13 checkpoints taking place this weekend in the county, along with 87 roving DUI patrols, according to representatives of the task force of law enforcement agencies collectively known as “Avoid the 100.”
“When you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, just be smart about it,” Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said in a written statement. “If you know you’re going to drink, whether with friends at a pub or attending a party designate a sober driver ahead of time or call a taxi to make sure you get home safely.”
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one person died every 53 minutes in a DUI-related crash in the United States in 2011.
“Most of these crashes involved drunk drivers who had blood-alcohol concentrations of .15 or higher, almost twice the legal limit of .08,” the task force statement said.
Whittier police are planning a checkpoint Friday night into Saturday morning within Whittier, according to Whittier police Sgt. Rob Hanson.
Pasadena police are also planning checkpoint Friday, as well as extra patrols to seek DUI drivers on St. Patrick’s Day, Pasadena police Lt. Pete Hettema said.
Arcadia police have announced plans to hold a checkpoint late Saturday into early Saturday within that city, Arcadia police Sgt. Brett Bourgeous said.
Sheriff’s deputies in Pico Rivera and California Highway Patrol officers in the unincorporated county area near West Covina will also hold a checkpoint late Saturday into Sunday, according to officials from each agency.
All of the checkpoints and additional patrols are being funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Officials: Fatal West Covina crash took place as suspects fled robbery; two men charged with murder

WEST COVINA >> Prosecutors filed charges of murder and robbery Tuesday against two men in connection with a fatal car crash police said took place as the suspects were fleeing the scene of a robbery.
Angel Andres Rojo, 24, of Covina and Jose Flavio Diaz, 24, of Montebello entered no pleas when they appeared at the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. An arraignment hearing was set for April 9.
They’re each accused of one count of murder and one count of second-degree robbery in connection with an alleged series of events late Saturday that resulted in the death of Manuel Ernesto Rodriguez, 26, of Rowland Heights, according to investigators and coroner’s officials. Rodriguez was a passenger in a Dodge sedan that crashed into a tree while being driven by Diaz.
“Several men, including Diaz and Rojo, were partying at a West Covina apartment complex just before robbing a woman and fleeing the scene,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “The defendants drove away with their friend, Manuel Ernesto Rodriguez, and traveled at a high rate of speeds on city streets.”
Diaz lost control of the car along a curve where Hollenbeck Street becomes Casa Grande Drive, West Covina police officials said. The car struck a tree and overturned.
Rojo ran from the wrecked Dodge Intrepid but was quickly captured, officials said. Diaz, who suffered major injuries including a broken ankle, was taken into custody at the crash scene. Rodriguez died from his injuries at the scene.
Police determined Diaz was under the influence of alcohol and arrested him on suspicion of drunken driving, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
As officers were responding to the crash, police received a call notifying them of the robbery, which took place at an apartment complex near Azusa and Puente avenues, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
Detectives withheld details of the robbery as they continued seeking witnesses and clues, Lopez said. The woman who was allegedly robbed was not injured, and police recovered property believed to have been stolen during the robbery from the crashed Dodge.
Because officials allege Diaz and Rojo were in the process of committing a felony — robbery — when the fatal crash occurred, they are eligible to be charged with murder under a California law known as the felony murder rule, Lopez explained. The law allows that deaths resulting from the commission of felonies be charged as murder cases.
Rojo already has a 2013 conviction for assault likely to produce great bodily injury, district attorney’s officials said.
He was arrested Dec. 13 of last year and released from custody on probation Jan. 21, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
Both men were being held in lieu of $1 million bail, records show. Diaz remained hospitalized due to his injuries Wednesday, While Rojo was being held at Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles.
If convicted as charged, both men could face maximum sentenced of life in prison.
Anyone with information regarding the fatal crash or the alleged robbery that preceded it was asked to contact West Covina police.

Passenger killed, driver accused of DUI following West Covina crash

WEST COVINA >> A man is accused of drunken driving in connection with solo-car crash that killed on of his passengers and injured a second passenger and himself late Saturday, police said.
The name of the passenger who died in the crash was not released Sunday pending notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said. He was initially described as a man in his mid-20s.
The name of the driver, also a man in his 20s, was not available as he remained hospitalized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for treatment of major injuries, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
The crash was first reported about 10:50 p.m. at a curve in the road where Hollenbeck Street becomes Casa Grande Drive, police said. It involved a Dodge sedan.
“A solo car had overturned after striking a palm tree,” Patton said. “It appears the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed.”
A passenger in the Dodge died at the scene, while the driver was hospitalized with major injuries and a second passenger was treated for injuries described as moderate, the lieutenant said.
Investigators determined the driver was under the influence of alcohol and placed him under arrest, Patton said.

West Covina sculpture of late Yankees pitcher, San Gabriel Valley resident Cory Lidle destroyed by metal thieves


WEST COVINA >> A bronze sculpture of Cory Lidle — a Yankees pitcher and San Gabriel Valley resident who died in a New York airplane crash in 2006 — was destroyed in a theft attempt by suspected metal thieves early Friday, authorities said.
The thieves were unable to remove the 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the entrance of the Big League Dreams sport complex, 2100 S. Azusa Ave., however they toppled and badly damaged in the attempt, West Covina police spokesman Rudy Lopez said. The statue was valued at about $100,000.
0222_NWS_SGT-L-STATUE2But they did get away with three bronze plaques that were on display at the memorial to Lidle, which was installed by West Covina to honor the fallen pitcher in October of 2007. The larger-than-life statue depicted Lidle, in his Yankees uniform, in mid-pitch.
While it remained unclear if the badly damaged statue could be repaired, “It’s never going to be the same,” Lopez said.
Lidle died October 11, 2006, when the small airplane he was flying in crashed into a Manhattan skyscraper. The Glendora resident was a standout player for South Hills High School in West Covina before becoming a professional baseball player.
Also killed in the crash was Lidle’s friend, 26-year-old Tyler Stanger of Walnut.
“It’s a horribly act of vandalism, and I hope they catch the people that did this,” West Covina Mayor Steve Herfert said. As a city councilman at the time, Herfert was involved in selecting the artist when the statue was first commissioned.
0222_NWS_SGT-L-STATUE3“This is a memorial to Corey Lidle, who grew up here in West Covina. It’s very disturbing,” the mayor said. “What a senseless act. It stuns me how someone could do something like that to a beautiful statue like that.”
Police reached out to the public Friday afternoon for clues regarding the identity of the thieves, as well as the location of the stolen plaques, officials said. They also notified area metal recyclers to be on the lookout for the unique plaques.
The theft took place between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., Lopez said.
It appeared whoever was responsible used heady-duty tools to cut into the large, bronze statue, Lt. Dennis Patton said. But they were apparently unable to make off with the massive sculpture.
The statue weighs about half-a-ton, according to the Texas-based foundry that cast it, the Stevens Art Foundry.
The City of West Covina commissioned the late Texas artist Don Hunt to sculpt the monument in 2007. Hunt died in 2011 at age 70.
Though the detailed statue was valued at $100,000, officials said the vandals were likely only after the value of recycled metal it was made of.
And at a current price of $3.27 per pound for copper — the primary component of bronze — the metal itself is worth less than $7,000.
Big League Dreams Executive Board Member John Giambi, father of Lidle’s former Yankees teammate and longtime friend Jason Giambi, described the incident as “disheartening” and “discouraging.”
“It’s disappointing that someone in the community would have the disrespect to do it,” John Giambi said.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors have passed by the sculpture as they enter Big League Dreams each year since its installation, he said.
“It’s about pride. It’s about the community, It’s about what the city has done,” John Giambi said.
In addition to honoring the life of Lidle, the monument was a source of pride for the city, Herfert said.
“The community will rally around,” he said. “We will repair, or replace, or whatever we have to do.”
“I promise our residents this act of vandalism will not deter us from our goal of fulfilling dreams at our Big League
Dreams facility,” the mayor added. “The statue will be repaired and we will be stronger in our resolve to stop crime and vandalism.”

Police plan pedestrian safety campaign Monday in West Covina

WEST COVINA — Police are planning an enforcement campaign targeting pedestrian safety issues Monday, officials said.
The pedestrian safety crackdown will take place at several undisclosed West Covina intersections throughout West Covina, West Covina police spokesman Rudy Lopez said.
It will target both drivers and pedestrians who violate traffic laws, he added.

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.

Parolee, passenger jailed after high-speed chase from West Covina to El Monte

A man and woman from El Monte were behind bars Saturday after leading West Covina police on a high-speed chase in a stolen car during which the driver rammed a police car, authorities said.
Driver and parolee William Paul East, 30, was booked on suspicion of auto theft, driving a stolen car, assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and felony evading of police following the pursuit, which began about 11:10 p.m. Friday in West Covina before officers stopped it with a PIT maneuver in El Monte, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
His passenger, 32-year-old Jenny Anne Lao, was arrested on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine, the lieutenant said.
East was being held without bail and was scheduled to appear in West Covina Superior Court Feb. 20, according to county booking records. He was already being sought for absconding from parole supervision when the chase took place, officials said.
Lao was being held in lieu of $25,000 bail and was scheduled to appear Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
The incident began when a man called police to report seeing his compact Toyota sedan, which had been stolen in El Monte, driving through West Covina, Patton said.
“He happened to come across his vehicle and notified West Covina police,” he said. It was not immediately clear when the car had been stolen.
The caller directed police toward where he had spotted his stolen car, and officers caught up with it in the area of Valinda Avenue and Maplegrove Street, on the western border of West Covina, Patton said.
“Officers proceeded to attempt to stop the vehicle, when the vehicle abruptly fled at a high rate of speed and a pursuit was initiated,” Patton said.
The fleeing car led officers along side streets before getting onto the westbound 10 Freeway, where it reached 105 mph, he said.
As the car exited at Peck Road, East lost control and the Toyota spun out, Patton said. Lao got out of the car and fled on foot, but was quickly apprehended. East continued fleeing in the car.
Police continued chasing the car south on Peck Road until it crashed into a car parked in a used car lot at Peck Road and Valley Boulevard, Patton said.
“After that impact with a parked vehicle at the auto dealership, the driver put the vehicle into reverse and intentionally rammed a police vehicle,” he said. The officer was not injured, and the damage appeared minor.
When East tried to continue driving, officers used a PIT maneuver to bring the chase to an end, according to Patton. East then surrendered.

West Covina man who died following Walnut car crash identified

WALNUT — Coroner’s officials Sunday released the name of a 47-year-old who died at a hospital earlier in the week after he was found unresponsive in his car following a solo-vehicle crash.
Randy Matlock died at San Dimas Community Hospital a little more than an hour after his car went over a curb and struck a utility pole about noon Thursday along Grand Avenue at Mountaineer Road, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said.
The crash did not appear major, and there was no trauma immediately apparent on Matlock’s body, leading officials to suspect he may have suffered a medical problem prior to the crash, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Robert Seals said.
An official cause of death had not been determined Sunday, Dietz said.
The crash was under investigation by deputies from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station.