Armed man feared to have hostages inside Whittier apartment

WHITTIER >> Police responded en masse to a Whittier neighborhood where a man armed with a knife and possibly a gun was feared to have hostages inside an apartment, authorities said.
The incident began about 4 p.m. as what was described only as a “disturbance,” Whittier police Lt. Mike Przybyl said.
A man was believed to have hostages inside the apartment, and officers were working to resolve the situation, he said.
No further details were immediately available.

Organization reflects on 30 years of helping families of homicide victims

It’s a tightly-knit club that no one ever asks to join, but one that members say provides immeasurable comfort at their most difficult times.
Families affected by homicide gathered Sunday to reflect on three decades of victim advocacy and support at the 30th Anniversary Justice for Homicide Victims Memorial Foundation Event at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier.
0407SGT-L-VICTIMSIn addition to honoring the memories of loved ones lost to homicide, guests thanked JHV founders Marcella Leach and the late Ellen Griffin Dunne for their tireless efforts to aid and comfort those suffering a pain most people will be fortunate enough to never know.
“Thirty years restoring the balance of justice,” San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos told the group.
All too often, the scales of justice appear to be weighted in favor of the suspect, Ramos said.
“We really need to balance those scales,” he said. “In fact, honestly, we need to balance them the other way. And how do we get there? We get there with organizations like yours.”
Ramos credited the group with helping to get Marsy’s Law, also known as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights, passed into law in 2008.
State Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, also commended JHV for its work.
“The foundation has truly provided a platform for family members to support each other over the past three decades,” Chau said.”It’s also a very excellent vehicle to educate the public about our criminal justice system, as well as to educate all of us about the victims’ legal rights.”
Marcella Leach founded JHV along with Ellen Griffin Dunne after both women lost a daughter to homicide, and both encountered harsh realities of the justice system which inspired them to become instruments of reform.
Following the slaying of Leach’s daughter, Marselee Nicholas, family members ended up running into the suspect at a market after he posted bail without their knowledge.
The killer of Dunne’s daughter, Dominique Dunne, was ultimately convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to “three years in a minimum security prison that has tennis courts,” said actor, director and producer Griffin Dunne, who is the son of Ellen Dunne and the sister of Dominique Dunne.
“It was because of this injustice that happened to our family that (Ellen Dunne) realized she wasn’t alone,” he said. “She reached out to Marcella, and JHV was born.
“Today, we have Marsy’s Law — one of the most comprehensive, constitutional victim’s rights laws in the United States,” Griffin Dunne said. “(Ellen Griffin) would be very proud of all of you, Marcella, most of all you.”
Marcella Leach’s eyes welled with tears as she thanked current JHV president Bill Bouffard and Homicide Victims’ Foundation President Jane Bouffard and the rest of the group.
“Thank you very much,” she said. “This is the most outstanding nonprofit in L.A., and it’s all due to you people.”
In addition to reflecting on past tragedies and accomplishments, the group discussed future plans as they continue fighting for justice for the organization’s ever-increasing ranks.
Just like criminal defendants, family members of victims deserve the right to a speedy trials that don’t drag on for years, Ramos said.
Additionally, Ramos said the process of appeals for convicts on death row must be significantly shortened.
“We are now pushing for a United States Constitutional amendment for victims’ rights,” Ramos said. “We have come a long way in 30 years, but I can tell you this: We have a long way to go.”
The meeting took place amid hundreds of posters displaying the photos and death dates of hundreds of homicide victims.
“Unfortunately, we add new pictures all the time,” said JHV Board Member Jeanette Chavez, whose 16-year-old daughter Sammantha Salas was fatally shot in an unincorporated county area near Monrovia in January of 2008.
Sammantha’s younger sister, Brittney, read a poem titled “Family Chains” in honor of her sister.
Previously focusing primarily on victim advocacy within the legal system, JHV is planning to launch a new grief counseling program in June, Chavez said.
For more information on JHV, visit www.justiceforhomicidevictims.net, or call 310-457-0030.

PHOTO: Justice for Homicide Victims co-foudner Marcella Leach, left, speaks to organization members during the 30th Anniversary Justice for Homicide Victims Memorial Foundation Event at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier on Sunday, April 6, 2014. Beside her stands Homicide Victims’ Foundation President Jane Bouffard (center) and State Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park (right).

Police: Whittier man arrested following failed carjacking, shooting

WHITTIER — A 24-year-old Whittier man is accused of shooting at a man following a failed carjacking Thursday, police said.
Jesse Duran was booked on suspicion of attempted carjacking and attempted murder following the series of event, which began about 6:10 p.m. in the 6300 block of Newlin Avenue, Whittier police Officer Brad White said. Additional charges were also expected.
“The victim in the incident told officers he had arrived home in his car, which he had parked in the alley, when he was approached by the suspect,” White said.
“Duran demanded the victim’s car, however, the victim refused,” the officer said. The victim drove away from the would-be carjacker and called police before parking in front of his home and waiting for officers to arrive.
“He exited his vehicle only to find Duran waiting there with a handgun,” White said.
The victim ran north along Newlin Avenue as Duran fired two shots at him, but missed, police said.
Responding officers found Duran in the 6300 block of Comstock Avenue and arrested him without a struggle, White said. The handgun believed to have been used in the shooting was found discarded nearby.
Duran and his alleged victim did not know one another prior to Thursday’s incident, White said.

Families of homicide victims to gather this weekend in Whittier

The Justice for Homicide Victims advocacy group is planning to host it’s 30th annual gathering Sunday at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, bringing together hundreds of people to honor the memories of slain loved ones and discuss the state of victims’ rights.
Justice for Homicide Victims 30th Memorial Foundation Event will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. inside Gate 19 of the Rose Hills, 3888 Workman Mill Road, organizers said.
Keynote speakers are to include San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, as well as actor, director and producer Griffin Dunne, who is the son of JHV founder Ellen Griffin Dunne.
Honored guests will also include victim’s rights advocate Marcella Nicholas. Marsy’s Law, also known as the California Victim’s Bill of Rights, is named for her daughter, who was slain in 1983 at age 21.
The candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff have been invited to speak, and several candidates for Los Angeles County Superior Court judge were scheduled to address the group, JHV Board Member Jeanette Chavez said.
Chavez, who lost her 16-year-old daughter Sammantha Salas to a shooting in 2008, said Sunday would be a good time for families affected by homicide who have not yet become involved with a support group to visit with others in similar situations.
In addition to JHV, “We’ll have other organizations there that will be able to help them in the area,” Chavez said.
And meeting with other families also dealing with the violent loss of a loved one can be a therapeutic process, she said.
“I remember when the detective told me about Parents of Murdered Children,” she said. “I started going to their sessions. And you know what, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve heard other mothers in my position. They understood the pain I was going through, losing a child.”
And JHV, in conjunction with the group Justice for Murdered Children, planned to announce a new, monthly grief counseling program at Sunday’s event, Chavez said.
“You will be able to send a message on a balloon to your loved one, doves will be released and songs will be sung,” organizers said in written statement. “Pictures of over 250 homicide victims will be displayed. Please feel free to being a picture to share.”
To RSVP or for more information, email Jane at JHVinfo@gmail.com. Information is also available on JHV’s website at www.justiceforhomicidevictims.net.

UPDATED: Woman fatally struck by car in Whittier, driver accused of DUI

WHITTIER — A man was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after he allegedly struck and killed a pedestrian Wednesday night.
The fatal collision on Mar Vista Street and La Sierra Avenue was reported to Whittier police at 8:39 p.m.
Whittier Police Officer Bradley White said a car heading eastbound on Mar Vista Street hit a woman walking in the roadway.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, Lt. Steve Dean said. He said the driver of the Toyota Corolla stayed.
Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner, described the pedestrian as a white woman in her 40s, possibly a transient. He didn’t release the woman’s name because her next of kin hasn’t been notified. The autopsy is pending.
The driver, 41-year-old Genaro Gonzalez of Hacienda Heights, was arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence, according to White.
Gonzalez was being held at Whittier jail in lieu of $110,000 bail.

- Brian Day and Ruby Gonzales

Teen accused of shooting at police officer in Whitter

Whittier Police arrested a teenager who shot at a police officer trying to stop him late Friday, officials said.
The suspect, described Saturday only as a teenage boy, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer following the 11 p.m. incident at Santa Fe Springs Road and Nogal Avenue, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said. The juvenile suspect’s exact age and city of residence were not available.
The boy was walking when an officer approached and tried to stop him, Whittier police officials said in a written statement
“As the Officer drove towards the person,he suddenly turned, firing several rounds at the officer’s patrol car,” according to the statement. The patrol car sustained minor damage, but the officer was unhurt.
Broadcasts from the officer under fire helped lead to the arrest of the boy, police said.
No further details were available.

- Jason Henry and Brian Day

Whittier ex-convict accused of ID theft, other crimes following early-morning SWAT raid

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WHITTIER >> A SWAT team raided the Whittier home of an ex-convict early Friday, recovering guns and drugs, as well as machinery and information related to a massive identity theft scheme, police said.
Ulices Roman Soto, 32, was booked on suspicion of weapon-, drug- and identity-theft related crimes following the raid, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said.
SWAT officers used flash-bang grenades to rouse Soto during the operation, which unfolded about 4 a.m. at the mobile home in which Soto was living to the rear of a home in the 8300 block of College Avenue, White said. Soto was taken into custody without a struggle, he said, and detectives recovered a treasure trove of evidence from the mobile home.
“During the officers’ search, they discovered two firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, methamphetamine, stolen property, (a) credit card embosser, a skimmer, a read/writer device and hundreds of profiles used by criminals to commit fraud,” according tot he police statement.
Soto’s equipment was allegedly being used to create fraudulent credit cards using information stolen from unsuspecting victims, White said.
Police continued working to identify the hundreds of potential identity theft victims, White added. Investigators suspected the information was stolen primarily via car break-ins.
The guns seized from Soto’s home included a .45-caliber pistol and a handgun designed to shoot more-powerful rifle ammunition, White said.
A small plastic baggie of methamphetamine was recovered from Soto’s mobile home, along with a scale, officials said.
White declined to discuss the investigation that led to Soto’s arrest.
He was free on bond from a previous arrest when jailed Friday, according to county booking records.
Deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Norwalk Station arrested Soto March 10, according to county booking records. Further details of the arrest were not available Friday.
Prosecutors charged him with forgery and receiving stolen property March 12, the same day he was released from custody on bond, county records show.
Los Angeles Superior Court records indicate Soto has a criminal record dating back 13 years.
He was convicted in of possession of drugs for sales and transporting drugs in 2009. Soto was convicted twice of drug possession, as well as of being a convicted felon in possession of a gun in 2006.
Soto was convicted of carrying a loaded firearm, as well as driving on a suspended or revoked license in 2005.
In 2003, he was convicted of driving without a license, according to court records. He was convicted in 2001 of being under the influence of drugs, fighting in public, resisting or obstructing police and a traffic violation.
Soto was being held in lieu of $35,000 bail, according to county booking records.

Transient sentenced for torching Whittier garage

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NORWALK — A homeless woman received a two-year prison sentence Wednesday for lighting a fire that scorched a residential garage in Whittier, authorities said.
Sarah Hope Kleiner, 45, received her sentence from Norwalk Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza after pleading “no contest” to a count of recklessly causing a structure fire in connection with the fire, which broke out about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 8 at a home in the 7600 block of Washington Avenue, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and Whittier police officials.
In addition to the prison term, Espinoza also ordered Kleiner to pay $20,000 in restitution, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Kleiner set fire to a discarded Christmas tree, which then spread to the garage, investigators said. Inside the garage was a treadmill and other personal items belonging to the victim.
Several hours after the garage fire, another Whittier resident reported Kleiner had set fire to a Christmas tree discarded in a trash can, but had fled once confronted by the homeowner, Whittier police official said at the time.
No charges were filed in connection with the second fire, which resulted in no damage.

PHOTO courtesy of the Whittier Police Department

Investigation continues in fatal shooting of Whittier man in El Monte

EL MONTE >> Detectives continue seeking clues in the mysterious slaying of a Whittier man who was shot to death while sitting in a car with his girlfriend over the weekend.
Simon Mendoza, 40, died at the scene of Saturday’s 12:32 a.m. shooting in a residential neighborhood in the 1300 block of Medina Court in El Monte, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
The Whittier resident, who held three jobs, was sitting in the driver seat of his car and talking with his girlfriend just prior to the fatal shooting, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The car was parked near the girlfriend’s home.
“She hears a tapping on the driver-side side window,” Hernandez said. “Shortly after the tapping, she hears several gunshots.”
Bullets struck Mendoza several times in the “upper torso,” the lieutenant said. The woman was not struck by gunfire, but was injured by shattered glass.
No words were exchanged before the shots were fired, he said.
“It happened quickly,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t have any time to react, and definitely didn’t have any time to defend himself.”
The shooter, described only as male, then fled the scene, Hernandez said.
A compact car was seen speeding away, though it was not clear Wednesday whether that car was involved in the shooting, he added.
No further details regarding the circumstances was known Wednesday.
A motive in the slaying was yet to be established.
“We’re still working the leads we have,” Hernandez said. “The detectives have been working diligently on it since it occurred.”
Neither Mendoza nor his girlfriend were believed to have gang ties, Hernandez said. But the area where the shooting occurred is known to be frequented by local gang members.
Friends and family members could not be reached for comment. A manager at an IHOP restaurant in Rosemead said Mendoza had worked there for two years and he was saddened by the shooting. He added that coworkers were rallying to help Mendoza’s family.
Mendoza’s Facebook profiles indicates he was a father.
Photos posted on the profiles show him smiling with neat, short-cropped hair, a mustache and wearing silver-colored cross necklace.
Sheriff’s homicide detectives are assisting El Monte police with the investigation, and anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

Walnut man pulls woman from bottom of hotel swimming pool in Whittier

WHITTIER >> A Walnut man said a series of coincidences led to him being in the right place at the right time to pull an unconscious woman from the bottom of a hotel swimming pool in Whittier late Thursday.
Mike Vargas, 33, sprung into action to help a young woman who found lifeless just before 9:40 p.m. at the bottom of the pool at the Radisson Hotel Whittier, 7320 Greenleaf Ave., according to officials and a witness.
The woman was “conscious and breathing” when paramedics arrived on scene, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Cheryl Sims said. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Vargas said a series of unexpected events led him to briefly stop by the Radisson late Thursday.
“I completely believe that it was divine intervention,” he said.
Vargas, a musician who raps under the stage name “Mikue,” had just left a Pico Rivera music studio and was heading to Uptown Whittier to meet a friend when the friend cancelled the meeting.
Vargas said he was thinking about stopping to see a movie when he pulled into the Radisson to use the restroom and get something to drink.
As Vargas was about to leave the hotel, he said he suddenly felt an urge to sit down on a bench and call his brother. “It was like a hit a brick wall,” he said. He had been sitting for about a minute when two women entered the lobby.
The women did not speak English, but frantically motioned for the clerk to follow them to the pool area, Vargas said. “I figured maybe there was a child who slipped and fell.”
But when Vargas and a hotel manager reached the pool, they saw the woman who appeared to be in her late-teens or early-20s lying curled up and motionless at the bottom of the deep end.
“It looked like she was just resting there,” he said. “There were no bubbles. No struggle. She was just lifeless down there.”
“I came back to my senses and realized what was going on, and I just jumped in,” Vargas said.
Vargas said the woman showed no signs of life once Vargas pulled her back onto the ground. After another bystander tried unsuccessfully to perform CPR, Vargas said he began administering chest compressions.
After four or five pumps, he said, the woman began to cough up water. “Within a minute, the police and fire departments showed up.”
An update on the woman’s condition was not available, nor were any officials details regarding how she ended up at the bottom of the pool.
But Vargas said he believed he knew how it was that he came to cross paths with the woman.
“I believe God intervened. That’s what my belief is.”