Truck containing 5 guns stolen from restaurant parking lot in Whittier

WHITTIER — A pickup truck with four pistols and an AR-15-style rifle was stolen from a restaurant parking lot in Whittier Saturday night, police said.
The theft was reported about 10 p.m. outside Marie Callender’s, 9829 La Serna Drive, Whittier police Lt. Steve Dean said. It has been parked since 7:30 p.m. before the owner of the white, 2006 Chevrolet Silverado discovered it missing.
Inside the bed of the truck, under a tonneau cover, were three Glock pistols, one Smith & Wesson pistol, and one AR-15-style rifle, Dean said.
It was unclear whether ammunition accompanied the weapons, or why the guns were in the truck. The possession of firearms inside vehicles is permitted under state law, provided the weapons are unloaded and properly stored.

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UPDATED: Woman stabbed to death in South Whittier; suspect arrested

SOUTH WHITTIER >> A woman is dead and another is accused of murder after a fight escalated into a stabbing late Friday in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, authorities said.
Michelle Alexis Young, 31, of Los Angeles died following the stabbing, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
The stabbing was first reported as a “woman down” about 10:30 p.m. on a small cul-de-sac in the 11500 block of Obert Avenue, just north of Leffingwell Road, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau said in a written statement.
Deputies arrived to find paramedics already treating Young, who had been stabbed multiple times, officials said
Young was pronounced dead on the sidewalk at 11:12 p.m., Smith said.
“A male adult witness at the scene told deputies that a female approached the victim and started an argument,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. “The argument escalated into a physical altercation. The female suspect then produced a knife and stabbed the victim several times. The suspect fled the location.”
Soon after, deputies detained another woman who as believed to have been involved in the incident, officials said.
After hours of investigation, detectives arrested Vanessa Rebecca Cella, 28, on suspicion of murder Saturday morning, sheriff’s officials said. Her city of residence was not immediately available.
Cella was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending her scheduled arraignment Tuesday in Bellflower Superior Court, according to county booking records.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Man accused of using modified truck to steal diesel fuel from West Whittier gas station

WEST WHITTIER >> Deputies arrested a man Thursday for allegedly filling a modified truck with stolen diesel fuel at area gas stations, authorities said.
Ruben Harutyunyan, 33, was booked on suspicion of grand theft following his arrest just after 1 p.m., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva said. His city of residence was not available.
A gas station attendant called deputies shortly before 1 p.m. to report a man with a work truck was using multiple. fraudulent credit cards to buy a large amount of diesel fuel at a 76 Station at the corner of Washington and Norwalk boulevards in an unincorporated county area west of Whittier, the lieutenant said.
The man had left when deputies arrived, but Whittier police officers soon spotted the truck in the area of Broadway and Washington Avenue, Villanueva said.
Officials discovered that Harutyunyan’s truck had been outfitted with a large tank to hold fuel, he said.
Investigators estimated Harutyunyan stole about $300 worth of diesel from the West Whittier gas station, Villanueva said. About $1,000 worth of diesel was found in the tank altogether, and officials were working to determined where it came from.
Deputies from the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station also arrested another man in connection with a similar case last month, in which a van outfitted with a storage tank was being used to steal fuel from area gas stations, Villanueva said.
According to county booking records, Harutyunyan was being held in lieu of $50,00 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Monday in Downey Superior Court.

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Whittier gang members convicted of fatal shooting of teen in South Whittier

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> A jury convicted two Whittier gang members Thursday for the execution of a Whittier teen in broad daylight at a strip mall in 2012.
A Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated for less than a day before finding Eudiel Eddie Lopez, 21, and Daniel Cesar Stopani, 20, guilty of the March 26, 2012, slaying of 17-year-old Michael Soto of Whittier, at a strip mall at the coroner of Mulberry Drive and Painter Avenue, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
“It was a gang hit; orchestrated, planned,” Deputy District Attorney Brock Lunsford said.
The killers approached the murder scene together before splitting up, the prosecutor said. Stopani approached Soto from the front and waited until Lopez took a position just behind the teen. Portions of the incident were captured by a surveillance camera mounted on a nearby bus.
Stopani suddenly shouted out “Whittier 13,” the name of a local street gang,” and punched the Soto
Lopez then pulled a .357 Magnum handgun and opened fire, Lunsford said.
The first two gunshots struck Soto in the face and back, knocking him to the ground, Lunsford said.
“Once he was down, it appears (Lopez” shot him twice more,” the prosecutor said. “He shot him four times in total.”
The jury convicted Lopez of first-degree murder and found true the special allegations that he personally used a gun in the crime, and that the crime was gang-related, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
Stopani was convicted of second-degree murder, and the jury found true the special allegations that a gun was used in the crime, and that the crime was gang-related, she said.
The shooting took place shortly after noon at busy strip mall, just across the street from a continuation school that had just let out for the day.
Lunsford said the fatal ambush stemmed from a brief exchange of words between Lopez and Soto about a month prior to the killing, Lunsford said.
Lopez had issued a gang challenge to Soto and told the teen that he was from Whittier 13. Soto responded they he didn’t care what gang Lopez belonged to.
Lopez told investigators the perceived slight was the reason he targeted Soto, Lunsford added.
Soto died at a hospital shortly after he was shot,
Relatives said Soto was not a gang member, and described him as a smart young man who hoped to join the U.S. Marines when he turned 18.
Following the shooting, Lopez and Soto split up, officials said.
Lopez fled north. He ran across a set of train tracks that were muddy due to rain the previous day, Lunsford said. Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators were able to follow Lopez’s muddy footprint to a nearby mobile home park, where he was quickly found and arrested hiding inside a trailer that belonged to a friend.
“He was leaving footprints that led right to the back door of the trailer where he was hiding,” Lunsford said.
Officials found Lopez, the muddy shoes and the gun that was used in the shooting inside, he added.
Stopani fled south from the shooting scene and was found and interviewed by investigators the same day, Lunsford said.
But Stopani was not arrested until February of 2013, after investigators had gathered evidence of his culpability in the killing, according to Lunsford and county booking records.
Lopez and Stopani are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 18 in Norwalk Superior Court. Lopez faces a maximum sentenced of 50 years to life in prison, while Stopani could face up to 40 years to life in prison.

PHOTO of Michael Soto, 17, of Whittier, taken at memorial to Soto in the wake of his fatal shooting on March 26, 2012, at the corner of Mulberry Drive and Painter Avenue in South Whittier. (By Keith Durflinger)

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Bell Gardens woman killed in Whittier car crash identified

WHITTIER >> Authorities have released the name of a 19-year-old Bell Gardens woman who died early Saturday when the car she was riding as a passenger in crashed along Beverly Boulevard in Whittier, critically injuring the driver and another passenger.
Maria Vasquez, 19, died at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center shortly after the crash, which took place just after 1 a.m. on westbound Beverly Boulevard, just west of Citrus Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. John Kades said.
She and a 21-year-old woman were thrown from a 1998 Chevrolet Malibu that struck a fire hydrant and a tree, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
The 21-year-old passenger, as well as the driver, a 25-year-old man, were hospitalized in critical condition, officials said.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

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UPDATED: Man fatally shot in front of his home in Whittier


WHITTIER >> A man died after being shot in broad daylight Saturday in front of his Whittier home, authorities said.
Police responded to reports of a shooting about 12:10 p.m. at the corner of Washington Avenue and La Cuarta Street, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
The victim, a 34-year-old Whittier man, was found lying unconscious outside, Ellis said.
0831_NWS_WDN-L-SHOOTINGDEATH2“Officers performed CPR. He was subsequently transported to (Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center) where he was pronounced dead,” Lt. Mike Przybyl said.
The victim had been shot once in the torso, he said.
His name was withheld pending notification of family members, officials said.
At least one suspect — described only as a man — was believed to have fled the scene in a vehicle, Przybyl said, however a further description of the suspect or the getaway car was not available.
The motive in the shooting also remained under investigation, Przybyl said.
“We’re developing further, and at this point, we’re still trying to follow up on some of that,” he said.
0831_NWS_WDN-L-SHOOTINGDEATH3Neighbors expressed sorrow for the victim’s family. They added that the home is occupied by several children.
Detectives examined items including an ice chest, an overturned plastic been full of clothing and a cell phone strewn along the street and sidewalk at the scene of the shooting.
Detectives continued interviewing witnesses, taking measurements and collecting clues well into the afternoon.
Detectives continued investigating the scene and interviewing witnesses of the midday shooting Saturday afternoon, he said.
Anyone with information can contact Whittier police at 562-567-9200.

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Young woman killed, two other people in critical condition following solo-car crash in Whittier

WHITTIER >> A 19-year-old woman died and two others were hospitalized in critical condition following a solo-car crash along Beverly Boulevard early Saturday, officials said.
The dead woman, who was a passenger in the car, succumbed to her injuries at the hospital, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
Her name was not released Saturday pending positive identification and notification of family members, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
A second passenger, described as a 21-year-old woman, and the driver, a 25-year-old man, suffered major injuries and were listed in critical condition at a hospital.
The crash was reported at 1:07 a.m. on Beverly Boulevard, just west of Citrus Avenue, Ellis said.
“A blue, 1998 Chevy Malibu traveling westbound on Beverly Boulevard lost control near Citrus Avenue, shearing off a fire hydrant, and impacted a large pine tree,” the lieutenant said.
The Malibu came to a stop against the tree, and both passengers were thrown from the car, he said.
The crash took place just before a sharp curve in the roadway. No other vehicles were believed to have been involved.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation by Whittier Police Department’s Traffic Bureau.

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Hundreds march in honor of slain sheriff’s Explorer in South Whittier

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> Hundreds of people took part in a vigil in South Whittier late Thursday to commemorate the third anniversary of the fatal shooting of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Explorer and lifelong Whittier resident Cesar Rodriguez.
The observance included a march to the scene of the shooting that claimed the life of Rodriguez, 19, and friend Larry Villegas, 24, of Whittier on Aug. 28, 2011.
Loved ones placed candles at the shooting scene outside a home in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue in South Whittier before continuing on to Amelia Mayberry Park.
The march was led by fellow Explorers from the sheriff’s Norwalk Station, where Rodriguez had volunteered for four years. And his legacy lives in.
“He was my inspiration to become an Explorer,” Alejandra Garcia, 16, said as she participated in the march while carrying a framed photograph of Rodriguez.
IMG_5398The fatal shootings of Rodriguez and Villegas remain unsolved, and no description of the killer or killers is known, investigators said.
Though officials initially reported a white Scion vehicle was being sought in connection with the crime, the car has since been located and found not to be involved, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

PHOTOS by James Carbone

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Vigil planned for sheriff’s Explorer slain in South Whittier drive-by shooting

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> Family members and loved ones of a 19-year-old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Explorer Scout plan to gather for a vigil Thursday to mark the third anniversary of his unsolved slaying.
Cesar Rodriguez, a lifelong Whittier resident who had spent his last four years volunteering as an Explorer at the sheriff’s Norwalk Station, was gunned down along with friend Larry Villegas, 24, in the early-morning hours of Aug. 28, 2011 in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue, according to sheriff’s investigators and family members.
He’s survived his parents Jorge and Lupe Rodriguez, as well as older brothers George and Hector Rodriguez.
“We’re trying to stay strong,” George Rodriguez said.
Thursday’s vigil will be held at 7 p.m. at Laurel and Beaty avenues, near the shooting scene in South Whittier.
Community support has continued to grow in the three years since Cesar Rodriguez’s
At a march held last year on the second anniversary of the shooting, nearly 300 people attended, he said. About 150 people marched in a similar gathering in 2012.
Cesar Rodriguez and Villegas were shot as they left a party, sheriff’s officials said. The shots were believed to have been fired from a passing vehicle, though no specific description was available.
A white Scion initially described by investigators as a suspect vehicle has been found and determined not to have been the killer’s car, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Rodriguez and Villegas died at the scene.
Patrick Maxwell, who served as captain of the sheriff’s Norwalk Station while Rodriguez volunteered there and has since been promoted to the rank of commander, described Rodriguez as a selfless and eager young man who was always polite and respectful. he has a lifelong dream of becoming a sheriff’s deputy, Maxwell said, and had turned in his application to join the sheriff’s department as a deputy a week before his killing.
At Rodriguez’s funeral, then-sheriff Lee Baca said Rodriguez was an exemplary Explorer Scout and a leader who was on a “noble path.”
Rodriguez was buried in his Explorer uniform.
The search for the killer or killers of Rodriguez and Villegas continues, and detectives have followed up on new clues in the case in recent months, Corina said.
A motive was not known with certainty, however Corina said investigators suspected the killings stemmed from a gang shooting.
George Rodriguez said the family remained hopeful the case would be solved, and Cesar Rodriguez’s killer or killers will be brought to justice.
Former sheriff Baca had promised the family the investigation would be a top priority of the sheriff’s department, George Rodriguez said. The brother said he hoped that would remain true under the department’s new leadership following the November runoff election for sheriff between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
Anyone with information on the double-fatal shooting is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

PHOTO of Cesar Rodriguez courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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UPDATED: Missing 12-year-old Whittier girl found safe

WHITTIER >> For the second time this month, a 12-year-old Whittier girl has been found safe and sound after she went missing Tuesday, police said.
Police asked the public to keep an eye out for a 12-year-old Whittier girl who went missing from her family home about in the 9600 block of El Venado Drive about 2 p.m., Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“(The girl) walked away from her parents’ house and has not been seen since and her family is concerned,” according to the police statement.
But she turned up Thursday at a relative’s home, safe and sound, Whittier police Lt. Aaron Ruiz said.
The girl previously went missing after running away from her home July 18 following an argument with her parents, according to Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis.
She was found safe the following day at a relative’s home in Montebello.

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