LA PUENTE >> Local sheriff’s deputies, police officers and CHP officers will be meeting with the community this week for a “Coffee with a Cop” event in La Puente, officials said.
The informal gathering will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday at Starbucks, 1283 N. Hacienda Blvd., organizers said in a written statement.
Deputies from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Industry Station’s La Puente Special Assignment Team will chat with residents, as well as Covina police officers, West Covina police officers and California Highway Patrol officers.
There are no agendas or speeches planned, “just a chance to meet your deputies and officers,” according to the statement.
For more information, contact Deputy Viviana Marez at 626-934-3061.
COVINA >> A 33-year-old West Covina woman died in a crash early Saturday after an SUV ran a red light and slammed into her pickup truck in an unincorporated county area just outside of Covina, authorities said.
Leslie Mendiola died in the 6 a.m. collision in the intersection of Lark Ellen Avenue and Cypress Street, according to Officer J. Smith of the California Highway Patrol’s Baldwin Park area office.
She was driving a 2006 Ford F-150 pickup truck south on Lark Ellen Avenue in the left-hand lane just prior to the crash, Smith said. A 27-year-old Covina woman was driving a 2002 Ford Expedition west on Cypress Avenue.
“(The driver of the Expedition) failed to stop at the circular red light at the intersection of Lark Ellen Avenue and Cypress Street,” Smith said. “Due to (her) failure to stop at the circular red light, the front of the Ford Expedition collided into the left side of the Ford F-150.”
Paramedics pronounced Mendiola dead at the scene.
The driver of the Expedition was taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries described as minor, Smith said.
The investigation was ongoing Saturday afternoon, and the driver had not been arrested.
WEST COVINA >> A La Puente woman who befriended an elderly West Covina man, stabbed him to death and set the house ablaze pleaded “no contest” to murder and arson charges Thursday, authorities said.
Brenda Armstrong, 40, is expected to be sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison when she returns to the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court for sentencing on Dec. 14, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.
She was originally accused of the special circumstance of murder during the coarse of a burglary, but the special circumstance allegation was dismissed under the negotiated plea arrangement, Deputy District Attorney Tony Cho of the D.A.’s Elder Abuse Section said. If convicted as originally charged, Armstrong could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors previously decided not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Ralph Simonian, 82, was found dead on Nov. 15, 2012, inside his burning home in the 900 block of Holiday Drive, according to prosecutors and Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators, who assisted West Covina police in the investigation.
“His house had been set on fire and he had been stabbed multiple times,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
After a lengthy investigation, detectives determined Simonian, who lived alone at his home, had been slain by Armstrong during a burglary at his home, Sgt. Robert Gray of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at the time.
She had befriended Simonian while working at J.B. Burgers in La Puente, where Simonian was a regular customer, officials said.
On the day of the slaying, a neighbor’s security camera captured images of a car Armstrong had borrowed arriving on the victim’s street, detectives and prosecutors said. Cell phone data also linked Armstrong to the crime scene.
Detectives first arrested Armstrong in connection with the slaying about two months after it occurred. But prosecutors declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence. Armstrong promptly moved to Delaware.
Detectives continued gathering evidence and building their case. Prosecutors ultimately filed a murder charge and issued an arrest warrant for Armstrong, who was taken into custody in Delaware during a traffic stop on Sept. 13, 2013.
Deputies found no signs of forced entry at Simonian’s home. Detectives learned she had visited the victim on several occasions, Gray said.
There were no signs of forced entry at Simonian’s home, the sergeant said. The fire, which began in the master bedroom where Simonian was fatally stabbed, was believed to have been set in order to destroy evidence.
The entire incident lasted about 45 minutes, Cho said.
Many of the details surrounding the slaying remain a mystery, as there were no witnesses, and Armstrong has not detailed the crime.
Officials said theft was believed to be the motive in the murder, but it was unclear what was stolen.
A small safe was discovered missing from Simonian’s home following the slaying and fire, Gray said.
The safe has never been recovered.
“We don’t know what was in the safe,” Cho said.
Absent of eye witnesses or DNA evidence, the case was largely “circumstantial,” Cho said.
He praised the tenacity of homicide detectives for Thursday’s conviction.
“I would jut credit with the detectives with putting together all the circumstantial evidence in the case,” Cho said.
PHOTO by Keith Birmingham
WEST COVINA >> Authorities are seeking a 13-year-old girl who went missing from her West Covina home Sunday morning.
Natalie Ilene Alvarado, who requires medication for a medical condition, was last seen about 11 a.m. near her home in the 2700 block of South Azusa Avenue, West Covina police officials said in a written statement.
She’s described as Latina, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 130 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information is asked to contact West Covina police at 626-939-8500 regarding case 16-5712.
WEST COVINA >> A Montebello woman died early Sunday after the car in which she was riding as a passenger crashed on a 10 Freeway offramp in West Covina early Sunday, officials said.
Melissa Ann Villanueva, 33, died following the solo-car crash, Officer T. Brazier of the California Highway Patrol’s Baldwin Park area office said in a written statement.
The driver of the 2013 Kia Forte, 34-year-old Jeanet Cuadra, was arrested, Brazier said. CHP officials declined to say Sunday what crime Cuadra was suspected of.
The fatal crash occurred just before 6 a.m. on the Barranca Street offramp of the westbound 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Officer Stephan Brandt said.
Cuadra was driving at 65 to 70 mph and had just crossed into the right-hand lane in advance of exiting the freeway, Brazier said.
“Cuadra fell asleep and traveled onto the fore point of the offramp and collided into the multiple attenuators,” he said.
“Cuadra was seat belted and sustained moderate, non-life-threatening injuries,” Brazier said.
“The right, front passenger of the Kia, Melissa Ann Villanueva, was asleep at the time of the collision and was not wearing her seat belt,” the officer said. “The impact into the attenuators caused Villanueva to be propelled forward and into the Kia’s windshield.”
Cuadra and good Samaritans got Villanueva out of the mangled car. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene at 6:08 a.m.
Authorities issues a Sig Alert for the offramp that lasted through noon as they investigated the scene and repaired the damaged roadway.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Officer Brazier at the CHP’s Baldwin Park area office at 626-338-1164.
WEST COVINA >> Detectives Thursday arrested the second of two suspects accused of robbing a taxi cab driver after ordering a ride to Galster Park in West Covina.
The crime took place about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday at the park, along Aroma Drive at Galster Way, West Covina police Lt. Jerry Pearman said.
The suspects ordered a taxi ride in another city and had the driver take them to the secluded park, he said.
“It was a set-up,” Pearman said. The suspects allegedly pulled a gun and demanded the driver’s property, including his money and cell phone.
The lieutenant said the driver turned over the items and was not injured. The robbers fled, and police searching the area did not find them.
But detectives continues working the case and were able to use the stolen cell phone to track the male suspect to a neighborhood not far from the park, Pearman said. They watched as the man tried to drive away, then pulled over his car and took him into custody.
Detectives found and arrested the female suspect while serving a search warrant on Thursday, he said.
Both suspects were booked on suspicion of robbery, Pearman said. Their identities were not available Thursday afternoon.
WEST COVINA >> Police arrested three alleged burglars, as well as the resident, following an attempted break-in Wednesday at a house containing an indoor marijuana farm, officials said.
Police first responded to the home in the 1800 block of David Court about 1 p.m. when a neighbor reported a possible burglary in progress, West Covina police Lt. Jerry Pearman said. The witnesses reported seeing several people, one of them armed with a handgun, smashing windows and trying to get into the home.
Officers found and detained three alleged suspects in the area, Pearman said. They were arrested on suspicion of burglary, and detectives continued investigating the trio late Wednesday for possible additional charges.
The ultimate intentions of the suspects, had the crime not been interrupted by police, remained unclear.
Officers also arrested the home’s resident after finding about 30 marijuana plants growing inside the home, Pearman said.
It appeared many more plants had been recently harvested at the home, he added.
The suspects names were not immediately available.
BALDWIN PARK >> Three young men suffered gunshot wounds in a car-to-car attack in Baldwin Park early Sunday morning, authorities said.
Two suspects were arrested following a pursuit that originated in Baldwin Park about the same time as the shooting took place, and detectives were investigating the possibility the two incident were related.
The shooting occurred about 2 a.m. in the area of Ramona Boulevard and Badillo Street, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Shawn Blackburn said.
The three young men, along with a teen who was not struck by the gunfire, were riding in a car when gunshots rang out from another vehicle, officials said.
Blackburn said the car continued driving east for about three miles before coming to a stop at Badillo Street and Phillips Avenue, across the city border in West Covina.
One of the victims was hospitalized in critical condition after undergoing emergency surgery, he said. The other two victims were in stable condition.
All three wounded men were in their late teens or 20s, West Covina Fire Department Capt. Esteban Rodriguez said.
Just before authorities received word of the shooting, Baldwin Park officers were involved with a pursuit of a pickup truck, police said.
Officers chased the fleeing truck to Rosemead, but cancelled the pursuit due to safety concerns, Blackburn said.
But a helicopter continued following the truck as it headed back east toward West Covina, where West Covina police resumed the chase.
The pursuit led back to Baldwin Park, where the driver and passenger ultimately stopped and surrendered, police said. Their identities were not available Sunday morning.
“The investigations regarding both incidents are ongoing, and it has not been confirmed that they are related at this time,” Baldwin Park police said in a written statement.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Baldwin Park police Capt. Joe Bartolotti at 626-960-1955. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
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.
WEST COVINA >> Prosecutors charged a man with attempted murder of a police officer and other charges Wednesday in connection with the shooting of a West Covina police officer during a gun battle last month.
Jose Luis Chavez, 47, of West Covina, is charged with attempted murder of a police officer, assault on a peace officer with a semi-automatics firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling said.
After fleeing the scene of the May 20 shooting along Yaleton Avenue, just north of Badillo Street, Chavez remained a fugitive for six days before a SWAT team found and arrested him inside a residential garage in Valinda early on May 26, authorities said.
Chavez entered no plea Wednesday, Risling said. He was scheduled to return to the West Covina branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court Thursday for arraignment.
West Covina police Officer Kenny Benitez suffered a through-and-through gunshot wound to his abdomen in the shooting, West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said. He has since been released from the hospital and is continuing his recovery at home.
Chavez was pushing a bicycle, accompanied by a woman, when the officer thought him suspicious and approached him, according to police Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who are assisting West Covina police in the investigation.
Chavez ran, sheriff’s officials said. Following a short foot chase, Chavez pulled a handgun and began shooting at the officer, who returned fire.
It was not immediately clear whether the suspect — later identified as Chavez — was wounded in the exchange of gunfire. But upon his arrest nearly a week later, investigators noted he was an apparent gunshot wound to his arm.
Lt. Steve Jauch of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Chavez, who is on felony probation under AB 109 guidelines following a previous conviction, has a lengthy and violent criminal record.
If convicted as charged, Chavez could spend the rest of life in state prison, Risling said.
Chavez was being held without bail, records show.
PHOTO of Jose Luis Chavez, 47, of West Covina courtesy of the West Covina Police Department.