One driver killed, two others hurt in three-vehicle wreck in West Covina

WEST COVINA >> A man died and two other people suffered injuries in a three-vehicle crash in West Covina on Saturday, officials said.
The collision occurred about 11:55 a.m. at Lark Ellen and Puente avenues, West Covina police Lt. Ron Allen said.
Initial investigation indicated 1960s-model Chevrolet Impala heading south in Lark Ellen Avenue clipped another car in the southbound left-turn lane before careening through a red light and slamming into a second car in the northbound left-turn lane, the lieutenant said.
Witnesses who called 911 to report the crash relayed that one of the vehicles was on fire, he said.
Firefighters had to cut the driver of the Impala free from the wreckage, Allen said. He soon succumbed to injuries suffered in the crash.
The driver of one of the cars struck by the Impala was hospitalized with major injuries, but was expected to survive, police said.
The driver of the car that was clipped by the Impala suffered apparently minor injuries.

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La Puente man accused of DUI in deadly West Covina crash

WEST COVINA >> A 19-year-old La Puente man is accused of murder following an alleged DUI-related crash that claimed the life of one passenger and injured two others early Saturday, police said.
The crash took place about 3:50 a.m. on Lark Ellen Avenue, near Vine Avenue, West Covina police Lt. Ron Allen said.
Andrew James Gomez was at the wheel of a Chevrolet Cobalt when it veered off the roadway and struck a light pole along the west side of Lark Ellen Avenue, according to West Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
“The driver was ejected,” Allen said. “A rear passenger was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Two additional passengers in the car were treated for minor injuries, Allen said.
Officials withheld the identity of the victim who died pending notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Lt. David Smith said. He was initially described only as a man.
Gomez was treated for his injuries before being booked on suspicion of murder, according to the lieutenant. Investigators determined he was under the influence of a substance. Further details were not available regarding what substance or substances were believed to be in his system.
The circumstances of the crash remain under investigation by West Covina Police Department’ Traffic Unit.
According to county booking records, Gomez was being held in lieu of $1 million bail the West Covina Police Department’s jail pending his initial court appearance.
Anyone with information can reach the traffic unit at 626-939-8555.

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Police plan Friday night checkpoint in West Covina

WEST COVINA >> Police are planning a sobriety and driver license checkpoint in West Covina on Friday night, officials said.
The checkpoint will be held from 6 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location within the city, West Covina police spokesman Rudy Lopez said in a written statement.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, through the California Office of Traffic Safety.

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UPDATED: Man and woman shot in West Valinda, crash car in West Covina

A man and woman suffered wounds in a shooting in West Valinda before crashing their car in West Covina late Thursday, authorities said.
The incident was first reported about 9:45 p.m., West Covina police Lt. Travis Tibbetts said.
A car had been involved in a minor crash with another vehicle at Sunset and Merced avenues, he said. The driver and passenger of one of the cars had been shot.
It appeared the crash took place as the woman was trying to drive to a hospital, officials said.
Police soon determined the shooting had taken place across the city border in the unincorporated county area of West Valinda, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. David Contreras said. The specific scene of the shooting had not been found Thursday night.
The male passenger was taken to a hospital where he was rushed into surgery, Contreras said. An update on his condition was not available.
The wounded woman was hospitalized in stable condition, he said.
No further details were available.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Man and woman critically injured in West Covina crash

WEST COVINA >> Paramedics rushed a man and woman to a trauma center in critical condition after their car struck a tree along Amar Road in West Covina early Saturday, officials said.
The crash took place about 9:30 a.m. on eastbound Amar Road, just west of Temple Avenue, West Covina Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian McDermott said.
Firefighters had to cut the man and woman free from the wreckage of their sedan before flying them to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center by helicopter, McDermott said. Officials encountered no additional patients.
The cause and circumstance of the crash were being investigated by the West Covina Police Department, but no one at the department was available to provide information Saturday morning or afternoon.

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West Covina man faces federal charges after large-scale drug raid

LOS ANGELES >> Prosecutors filed federal charges this week against an alleged drug runner from West Covina after police found 1.25 pounds of methamphetamine and 28 guns in his house earlier this month, authorities said.
A federal complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charges Edwin Francisco Reyes, 44, with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute,
Chino police investigators showed up with a search warrant on March 2 at home Reyes shares with his wife and four children on East Grovecenter Drive in West Covina, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. It was not clear Friday why the investigation was spearheaded by the Chino Police Department.
“During the search, officers with the Chino Police Department seized 532 grams — or nearly 19 ounces — of methamphetamine,” according to Mrozek.
Investigators also recovered a total of 28 guns, including six handguns and two AR-15-style rifles, were also seized from Reyes’ home. As a previously convicted felon, Reyes is barred from possession guns or ammunition.
According to the complaint, police also found a pistol silencer and a large amount of ammunition in the home.
“The affidavit alleges that Reyes admitted being involved in a drug trafficking ring as a runner who delivered drugs to buyers in exchange for cash,” Mrozek said. “On the day the search warrant was executed, according to the affidavit, Reyes admitted picking up five pounds of methamphetamine to deliver to Ontario.”
Reyes was being held in state custody Friday, but was expected to be turned over to federal custody next week.
If convicted as charged, Reyes faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and a maximum penalty of life behind bars.
Reyes, who is currently in state custody, is expected to be handed over to federal authorities next week.
If he is convicted of the charge of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, Reyes would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison.

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West Covina woman gets 2 years in prison for embezzling from PTA, little league, Girl Scouts

WEST COVINA >> A judge sentenced a West Covina woman to two years in state prison Friday for embezzling more than $92,000 from local Girl Scouts, Little League and PTA organizations for which she volunteered, authorities said.
Veronica Monique Paderez, 38, pleaded “no contest” to three felony counts of embezzlement in November.
Between 2013 and 2015, she embezzled more than $52,000 from the Vine Elementary School PTA, $26,000 from the West Covina American Little League and $11,000 from Girl Scout Troop #4754, for a total theft of more than 92,000, according to investigators and prosecutors.
“Paderez was a volunteer with each of the organizations and had access to their accounts and money collections,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
Upon sentencing Paderez, Judge Victor Martinez also ordered her to repay $92.048.81 to the three organizations she stole from, Ardalani said.
She could have received a lesser sentence had she been able to produce a lump sum restitution payment of $15,000 at Friday’s hearing, officials said.
But she did not have the money at the hearing, according to Ardalani.
Paderez was initially charged with nine counts of theft by embezzlement and could have faced up to four years behind bars if convicted at trial as charged.
Paderez served as treasurer of the Vine Elementary PTA for the 2014-2015 school year. She also served as treasurer and auxiliary vice president for the Little League, and police said she was in charge of the local Girl Scout troop and controlled its accounts.
West Covina Police Officer David Sifling, who took part in the investigation, said Paderez showed no signs of remorse in court.
He commended police investigators, as well as Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Goodrich, for their hard work in unravelling the complicated case.

PHOTO of Veronica Paderez courtesy of the West Covina Police Department

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Police, sleuthing mother recover teen’s stolen snowboard in West Covina; suspect jailed

WEST COVINA >> A cyber-sleuthing mother helped police to get her 13-year-old daughter’s stolen snowboard back and arrest a man on suspicion of the theft, as well as at least three others, officials said.
Tony Jesus Cruz, 20, was booked on suspicion of possession of stolen property on March 8 after police arranged to meet him in West Covina in response to online advertisements he’d posted for stolen snowboards, West Covina police Officer David Sifling said.
Sophia Hert, 13, was snowboarding at the Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood on March 4 when someone snatched her snowboard, along with others, from a rack, the officer said.
Adding insult to injury, Sophia had worked hard to purchase the snowboard herself, Sifling explained.
“She makes homemade dog biscuits and treats,” he said. Selling the pet treats, “She raised enough money to buy her own snowboard,” he said.
The girl’s mother, Jennette Hert, took to the internet and soon found her daughters snowboard, which was recognizable due to distinctive features, being advertised for sale on the online marketplace OfferUp, Sifling said. She posed as a buyer and arranged to meet the seller at a mall in West Covina on March 8 to complete the transaction, and notified police.
Sifling said he then contacted the same seller, later identified as Cruz, posing as a potential buyer interested in another snowboard. An meeting was arranged about the same time and place as the other meeting arranged by the victim’s mother.
Police arrested Cruz when he showed up at the meeting place with the girl’s stolen snowboard, as well as a second stolen board, Sifling said. A search of a Covina home where Cruz had been staying turned up to additional allegedly stolen snowboards.
Police had yet to determine the value of the recovered snowboards, he said, though each was likely worth several hundred dollars.
According to Los Angeles County booking records, Cruz was released from jail the same day of his arrest pending his initial court appearance after posting $20,000 bail.

PHOTO: West Covina Police Officer David Sifling, left, poses for a picture with 13-year-old Sophia Hert after police, aided by the girls’ mother, recovered the teen’s stolen snowboard and arrested the alleged thief on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Courtesy)

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West Covina man sentenced for DUI crash that killed Walnut father

WALNUT >> A West Covina man received a 4-year prison sentence on Thursday for fatally striking a Walnut man while intoxicated, authorities said.
Haissam Massalkhy, 37, pleaded “no contest” in February to a count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence for the Feb. 15, 2016, collision at La Puente Road and Barnard Avenue that claimed the life of 59-year-old father of three Chi “Jason” Shao, 59, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani and Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
An additional charge of murder was dismissed at his sentencing on Thursday, records show. Prosecutors initially alleged Massalkhy ran down Shao intentionally, though no possible motive was released. The men did not know one another prior to the incident, officials said.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles handed down a sentence of four years in state prison when Massalkhy appeared in court on Friday.
Shao was jogging when he was struck from behind by Massalkhy’s Toyota Camry, according to Lt. Steve Jauch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau, which handled the investigation. Shao was carried on the hood of the car for several yards before the Camry crashed into a wall. Paramedics pronounced Shao dead at the scene.
Shao’s son, Jeff Shao, described his father as “friendly” and an “easy-going guy.”
His daughter, Cindy Shao, said his life centered around his family and his job at Cheertie Display Fixtures in El Monte. He had quit smoking and taken up jogging in an effort to live a long and healthful life.
If he had been convicted of murder, rather than vehicular manslaughter, Massalkhy could have faced more than 25 years to life in state prison.

*NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the charge the defendant pleaded “no contest” to was vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

PHOTO: Chi “Jason” Shao, 59, of Walnut.  (Courtesy)

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West Covina man accused of killing roommate’s pet Chihuahua

WEST COVINA >> A West Covina man accused of killing his roommate’s pet Chihuahua denied an animal cruelty charge on Thursday, officials said.
Mark Rivera Rodriguez is charged with one count of felony animal cruelty in connection with the March 7 death of the animal, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
The incident took place about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday at a home in the 200 block of North Phillips Avenue, West Covina police Lt. Ron Allen said.
Prosecutors allege Rodriguez had previously threatened to kill his roommate’s dog, named Alvin, according district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
“The defendant was allegedly hanging from a tree in the backyard of the West Covina home when he jumped down and landed on Alvin’s head,” she said. “The dog’s owner immediately took Alvin to the veterinarian, where he was pronounced dead.”
Police arrested Rodriguez later the same day.
Rodriguez remained jailed Friday in lieu of $25,000 bail, records show. He was scheduled to return to the West Covina branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 27 for a hearing in the case.
If convicted as charged, he faces up to three years in county jail.

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