West Covina man goes missing under suspicious circumstances

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WEST COVINA >> Police and worried family members are searching for a professional dancer of West Covina who disappeared earlier this week.
Rahkeem “Rocky” Reyes, 27, was last seen Monday, according to West Covina police officials and family friend Ronda Hampton.
His car was found later in the day in the 1500 block of McWood Street, Hampton said.
“His car was found running with the keys in the ignition and with all of his belongings in the car, including his laptop, wallet and other personal belongings, however, he was nowhere to be found,” she said.
“Rocky is a 27-year old professional dancer who has danced in several dance videos, movies, commercials and live stage performances,” Hampton said. “His family is very concerned about him as he has never gone missing and they are concerned that he may be in danger.”
Police confirmed they were investigating the disappearance as a person missing under suspicious circumstances, but declined to discuss the case in detail Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Anyone with information can reach the West Covina Police Department at 626-939-8500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Officials identify West Covina man killed in El Monte motorcycle crash


EL MONTE >> A motorcyclist killed in a freeway crash in El Monte on Friday afternoon has been identified as a 51-year-old West Covina man, officials said Saturday.
Albert Max Escobedo died in the 3:10 p.m. crash on the 10 Freeway, east of Peck Road, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
Escobedo was riding a 2005 Suzuki motorcycle in the westbound lanes of traffic just prior to the crash, according to Officer M. Vargas of the California Highway Patrol’s East Los Angeles area office.
“For reasons still under investigation, the rider lost control of his vehicle and collided into the concrete jersey wall,” Vargas said in a written statement. “The rider was ejected from the motorcycle.
Escobedo was thrown into eastbound traffic lanes, where he was struck by three vehicles, officials said.
Paramedics pronounced Escobedo dead at the scene.
None of the other drivers were hurt in the collision, Vargas said. The crash remained under investigation.
Any witnesses are encouraged to contact the CHP’s East Los Angeles area office at 323-980-4600.

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UPDATED: Large fire consumes vacant auto dealership in Covina

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COVINA >> A large fire tore through a vacant car dealership in Covina late Wednesday, officials said.
The fire was first reported at 8:43 p.m. at a vacant commercial building at 377 S. Citrus Ave., Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Kyle Sanford said.
The first firefighters to arrive on the scene encountered smoke and fire coming out of the building and issued a “second-alarm” at 8:54 p.m., summoning additional firefighters to help, Sanford said.
0901_NWS_SGT-L-BIGFIRE2Firefighters declared the blaze extinguished at 9:34 p.m., Sanford said.
He described the involved building as a now-vacant former car dealership.
No injuries were initially reported, he said. The cause remained under investigation.
Authorities shut down Citrus Avenue between Center and Puente streets as the fire continued burning Wednesday night.

PHOTOS courtesy of Covina Police Department/Los Angeles County Fire Department

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West Covina police officer wounded in gunfight returns to duty

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WEST COVINA >> A West Covina police officer wounded in a gunfight with a suspect returned to duty this week after recovering from his injuries.
Officer Kenny Benitez was allegedly shot by 47-year-old Jose Luis Chavez during a May 20 confrontation on Yaleton Avenue, just north of Badillo Street, according to West Covina police and Los Angeles Count sheriff’s officials. Chavez, who was also wounded in the encounter, was captured in nearby Valinda following a six-day manhunt, faces charges of attempted murder of a police officer, assault on a police officer with a semi-automatic firearm and possession of a gun by a convicted felon.
The West Covina Police Department’s briefing room was extra crowded Thursday night as fellow officer and other colleagues attended the briefing to welcome Benitez back to his first shift after three months of recovery, West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said.
“Ken was severely injured when he was shot in May and his quick recovery is nothing short of miraculous under the circumstances,” the chief said.
0820_NWS_SGT-L-OFFICER2“Officer Benitez is a strong young man and was driven to return back to work in support of his fellow officers in the field,” Faulkner said. “We are very proud of Officer Benitez and how he handled this injury. Ken has set a solid example for our personnel for many years to come.”
Benitez has been a police officer for nine years, and had worked with the West Covina Police Department of a little over a year at the time of the shooting.
Benitez approached Chavez as he walked with a woman, pushing a bicycle, when Chavez pulled a handgun and opened fire multiple times, officials said. Benitez was wounded but returned fire.
The alleged shooter, later identified as Chavez, initially escaped the scene but was captured by a sheriff’s SWAT team the following week in the unincorporated county area of Valinda. He was found to have a days-old gunshot wound to his arm.
Chavez has yet to enter a plea to his charges in connection with the shooting of Benitez.
His arraignment hearing has been postponed four times, and his now scheduled to take place Sept. 6 in West Covina Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Chavez is also scheduled to be sentenced for another criminal case on Sept. 6, she said. He pleaded “no contest” in April to possession of drugs for sale, bringing contraband into a jail and possession of a switchblade knife. That case was first filed in December of 2015.

PHOTOS: [ABOVE] West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner, left, welcomed Officer Kenny Benitez back to duty on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, on his first night of patrol following after being wounded in a gunfight with a suspect three months ago. [BELOW] Jose Luis Chavez (Courtesy, West Covina Police Department)

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Two suspects jailed in fatal shooting of 20-year-old Covina man during alleged robbery

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COVINA >> Police have arrested two suspect in the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old Covina man while allegedly trying to rob him of jewelry after arranging a meeting online, officials said.
Isaac Urena died in Saturday’s 11:50 a.m. shooting in the parking lot of Clearman’s North Woods Inn, at San Bernardino Road and Azusa Avenue in Covina, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator A. Lopez said.
After following leads and serving search warrant through the night and into Sunday morning, Covina police detectives, aided by SWAT officers, arrested Adam Hernandez, 21, and Christopher Avila, 20, both of Covina, on suspicion of murder and robbery, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
“These guys were relentless in their pursuit of these suspects…working, literally, around the clock,” he said.

Police have Clearman's North Woods Inn parking lot cordoned off where they believe a man was shot late Saturday morning. The man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Police have Clearman’s North Woods Inn parking lot cordoned off where they believe a man was shot late Saturday morning. The man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Urena was the passenger in a Honda Civic, with a friend at the wheel, when the shooting took place, according to police.
He had made an arrangement online to sell some jewelry, and had gone to the restaurant parking lot to meet the prospective buyer, the sergeant said.
But the transaction turned into a robbery, and Urena was shot and mortally wounded, Peterson said.
The driver of the car Urena was riding in fled from the shooting scene and drove west along San Bernardino Road, coming to a stop in the parking lot of Faith Community Church across the city border in West Covina, police said.
It was there that paramedics pronounced Urena dead, officials said. The driver, also a young man, was not wounded in the shooting.
Detectives had yet to determine of the alleged killers successfully stole the jewelry they were after, or fled empty-handed, Peterson said.
As investigators pursued leads in the case, they identified Hernandez and Avila as suspects in the fatal shooting.
Police served a search warrant in the 1400 block of Armel Drive in Covina, where they apprehended Hernandez, Peterson said.
“As the investigation continued, it led us to the 1200 block of O’Malley Avenue (in Covina), where we served a search warrant with our Special Response Team,” Peterson said. Avila was taken into custody.
Police recovered a handgun during the searches, he said, but police were yet to determine it if was the weapon used in the slaying.
According to county booking records, Hernandez and Avila were being held in lieu of $1 million bail each pending their initial court appearances, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court. Police planned to seek an increase in bail to $2 million, Peterson said.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Covina police detectives at 626-384-5628, Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

BOOKING PHOTOS of Christopher Avila (left) and Adam Hernandez (right) courtesy of the Covina Police Deparmtent.

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Man found shot to death at West Covina church following Covina attack

A man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. Police have the victim's body covered by a tent awaiting the Coroner Department's arrival. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

A man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. Police have the victim’s body covered by a tent awaiting the Coroner Department’s arrival. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

WEST COVINA >> A young man died after he shot in the passenger seat of a friend’s car in Covina while meeting someone to sell property via an online advertisement, authorities said.
The shooting took place about 11:50 a.m. in the parking lot of Clearman’s North Woods Inn, at San Bernardino Road and Azusa Avenue, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
Immediately following the shooting, the driver of the car drove away from the shooting scene, heading west across the city border into West Covina, the sergeant said.
“After the shooting, the victim’s friend drove away from the location and into the parking lot of Faith Community Church in the City of West Covina,” Peterson said.
It was there that first-responders encountered the victim.
“When fire department personnel arrived, he was in full arrest,” West Covina Fire Department Captain Esteban Rodriguez said.

Police have Clearman's North Woods Inn parking lot cordoned off where they believe a man was shot late Saturday morning. The man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Police have Clearman’s North Woods Inn parking lot cordoned off where they believe a man was shot late Saturday morning. The man was found fatally shot inside a Honda Civic in the parking lot of Faith Community Church on San Bernardino Road in West Covina Saturday August 13, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Police, and then paramedics performed CPR on the wounded man, but he was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene, according to the captain.
The black Honda Civic in which the victim was riding came to a stop within a painted parking stall at the northwest end of the sprawling church property, 1211 E. Badillo Street.
Police covered the body with a sheet and a tent as they awaited the arrival of coroner’s officials.
The driver of the Honda, also a young man, spoke with investigators at the church Saturday afternoon.
He declined to comment and appeared angered by the presence of media.
The victim’s identity was not released Saturday.
The investigation remained in its early stages Saturday, however it initially appeared the victim and his friend had gone to the parking lot in Covina to sell some property after arranging the transaction online, Peterson said.
Police declined to say exactly what was being sold, but said the transaction did not involve contraband.
The shooter was described only as male, Peterson said. It was unclear if he was alone, or if was accompanied by accomplices.
No further details were available.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Covina police detectives at 626-384-5628, Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: One killed, one wounded in shooting at West Covina house party


WEST COVINA >> Gunfire erupted at a West Covina house party Friday night, leaving a La Habra man dead and another victim wounded, authorities said.
Jose Melendez, 21, died in the shooting, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Acting Lt. B. Kim said.
The shooting took place about 10:15 p.m. in the 800 block of East Michelle Street, West Covina police Lt. Travis Tibbetts said.
Officers responded to reports of gunshots when they encountered people fleeing from a house party, he said.
Paramedics found Melendez in the backyard and administered CPR at the scene, but ultimately pronounced him dead.
The second victim, described only as male, was also found nearby, Tibbetts said. He suffered injuries not initially believed to be life-threatening.
Officials initially believed a third person had been injured in the shooting, but that turned out not to be true, Tibbetts said.
No additional details, including a suspect description, were available as the investigation continued Saturday.
Anyone with information can reach West Covina police at 626-939-8500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Police, sheriff’s deputies, CHP officers host ‘Coffee with a Cop’ in La Puente


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.

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CHP: West Covina woman killed after SUV blows through red light, slams into her truck near Covina


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.

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La Puente woman convicted of stabbing elderly West Covina man to death, setting house on fire

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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

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