UPDATED: Suspect shocked with Taser and arrested after chase from Pomona to West Covina, crash

Deputies subdued a fleeing, wanted suspect with a Taser Saturday after he tried to run deputies off the road in Pomona, then led them on a freeway chase which ended in a crash in West Covina, authorities said.
Eddie Mendez, 30, of Pomona was arrested following the pursuit, which began about 11:30 a.m., according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and booking records. He is on felony probation or Post Release Community Supervision under AB 109 of 2011, also known as prison realignment, following drug-related convictions.
At least one civilian car was also run off the roadway during the chase, Lt. Andy Berg of the sheriff’s San Dimas Station said. No injuries were reported to deputies or civilians.
Two deputies were driving in a patrol car at Gillette Road and Dudley Street in Pomona when a blue Chevrolet HHR with no license plates exited the parking lot of a nearby motel, sheriff’s officials said.
The driver, later identified as Mendez, “looked straight at them and drove toward them as if trying to strike them,” Berg said. “He tried to run them off the road.”
The deputy driving the patrol car managed to avoid a collision, turned around and began chasing the SUV.
As the fleeing SUV entered the westbound 10 Freeway, it pulled in front of a civilian car, forcing it off the road, Berg said. Officials were also looking into a report that a second civilian vehicle may have been struck by the suspect’s SUV during the chase.
Mendez continued weaving in and out of traffic as he sped down the 10 Freeway, Berg said. He soon crashed in West Covina.
“Eventually, in his weaving, he lost control. He hit the center divider near Azusa avenue,” the lieutenant said.
Mendez ran across eastbound traffic lanes and tried, but failed, to climb over a sound wall, Berg said.
Deputies chased after Mendez on foot and caught up with him as he was making a second attempt to scale the wall about 100 yards to the west.
Deputies shocked Mendez with a Taser, which disabled him and allowed them to place him in handcuffs without further struggle, Berg said.
Deputies determined Mendez was wanted on a “no bail” warrant due to a violation of parole or probation, Berg said.
After being examined at a hospital, Mendez was expected to be booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, evading police and hit-and-run, as well as the outstanding warrant.

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UPDATED — Police: Suspect in bizarre West Covina rampage admits using bath salts, methamphetamine

WEST COVINA >> A man believed to be high on bath salts and methamphetamine threatened passers-by with a gas can, doused himself in the flammable liquid and bit a police officer before finally being wrestled into custody by police early Saturday, authorities said.
Juan Carlos Urrutia, 24, of West Covina was arrested in connection with the incident, according to West Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
The bizarre series of event unfolded shorty after 7 a.m. in the area of West Covina Parkway and Glendora Avenue.
Police received numerous calls of a man — later identified as Urrutia — of about 19 years old walking in the middle of the street with a gasoline can in-hand, “threatening motorists to light them on fire,” West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
Callers further reported that the man had doused a bush, as well as himself, in gasoline, and had been seen carrying both a lighter and a crowbar, the lieutenant said.
Officers arrived and confronted Urrutia, who was still carrying the gas can, as well as some jumper cables and paper towels that had been soaked in gasoline, Patton said. He appeared highly intoxicated.
“He disobeyed call commands,” Patton said.
But because the man was soaked in flammable liquid, officer were unable to use a Taser to subdue Urrutua for fear of igniting a fire, police said. So police wrestled him into custody.
“It took multiple officers to get this guy into custody,” Patton said.
Urrutia bit an officer in the arm during the struggle, breaking the skin and causing a “significant injury,” Patton said. The officer was treated and released at a hospital.
The suspect told officials that he had consumed bath salts and methamphetamine, he said. He was taken to a hospital for examination.
Bath salts is a term used to describe a family of synthetic stimulants often sold as items such as bath salt, labeled not for human consumption.
After being examined at a hospital, Urrutia was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, resisting arrest and being under the influence of drugs, police said.
According to county booking records, Urrutia was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his arraignment, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.

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UPDATED — Walnut carjacking suspect arrested after hit-and-run, burglaries in West Covina

A Walnut carjacking suspect fleeing the scene of a crash broke into two homes, startling residents, and was trying to break into a third when police arrested him Thursday, authorities said.
Joseph Zavala, 24, of North Hollywood was ultimately arrested on suspicion of carjacking, felony hit-and-run, burglary and possession of stolen property, West Covina police Lt. Pat Cirrito said.
The incident kicked off about 2:40 p.m. when the suspect grabbed a set of keys from a woman at a gas station at Pierre Road and Valley Boulevard in Walnut, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said. He fled with the woman’s Toyota sedan, he said. The woman was not injured.
About five minutes later, police in West Covina received a report of a hit-and-run car crash at Grand Avenue and Cortez street, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said. A woman had suffered a minor injury in the collision when the suspect struck her vehicle, then ran from the scene.
Officials soon linked the car Zavala had been driving to the earlier carjacking, Patton said.
Zavala arrived at a home in the 500 block of Grand Avenue, the lieutenant said. “He removed the window screen and entered the residence, where he was confronted by the homeowners.” The residents managed to chase the intruder away, however further details of the encounter were not immediately available.
Patton said the fleeing suspect then showed up at a second home in the 600 block of Ferrari Way, “…where he broke a window of that residence. He entered into that structure, where he confronted the female resident, who feared for her safety and fled from her residence.”
Zavala helped himself to the woman’s refrigerator before continuing to run, Patton said.
Officers caught up with the man as he was breaking a window of a garage in the 600 block of Wrede Lane, Patton said. He was taken into custody without a struggle.
Officials took Zavala to a hospital for treatment of injuries suffered in the crash and the break-ins prior to booking him into jail, Patton said.
Investigators were also looking into the possibility the suspect was under the influence of methamphetamine during the incident.

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UPDATED: Real estate agents discover marijuana growing inside West Covina home

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WEST COVINA >> Police uprooted about 700 marijuana plants valued at $1.5 million Saturday after real estate agents visiting a home for sale in West Covina stumbled upon a large marijuana growing operation Saturday, officials said.
The illicit garden was found about 1:30 p.m., concealed within a home in the 2400 block of Felicia Street, just southwest of Amar Road and Nogales Street, West Covina Police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
“The home is apparently up for sale,” the lieutenant said. Real estate agents who stopped by the home notified police of the pot plants growing inside.
Police obtained a search warrant before removing the plants and equipment from the house.
The home, which Patton described as “an exceptionally large marijuana grow,” was outfitted with extensive lighting and irrigation equipment.
No arrests had been made Saturday afternoon, and police were still looking into who was responsible for the home Sunday.
20140426_191224 (1)It initially appeared the home was owned by an absentee landlord who was unaware of the marijuana growing operation, Patton said.
One neighbor, who asked not to be identified for fear of possible retaliation, said she didn’t recall seeing anyone at the home, but the interior lights were often on in the middle of the night.
“We don’t see anybody there going in and out, even cars,” the neighbor said.
“It’s scary,” she added. “We don’t know who our neighbors are.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.”

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