SWAT team searches for wanted parolee in South Whittier

 

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SOUTH WHITTIER >> A SWAT team forced their way into a South Whittier apartment in search of a wanted parolee late Friday, but did not find the man, officials said.
Deputies patrolling about 7 p.m. in the 11900 block of Inez Avenue in the unincorporated county area of South Whittier spotted a man in his mid-30s who was wanted for violating his parole, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. The man bolted from deputies as they approached him, running into a nearby apartment.
The deputies followed and got the resident’s permission to search the apartment, Lt. Daniel Gillespie said. The deputies cleared all but one room of the apartment, in which the suspect was believed to be hiding.
The Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau, or SWAT team, responded to deal with the possibly holed-up suspect, the lieutenant said.
The SWAT deputies deployed a flash-bang grenade and forced their way into the room about 11 p.m., he said. But the suspect was not inside.

PHOTO: Courtesy, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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Whittier man killed in Colima Road crash identified

WHITTIER >> Authorities Sunday identified Whittier man who died in a solo-vehicle crash on Colima Road Friday afternoon.
Peter Alan Wright, 62, of Whittier died at the scene of the 5:15 p.m. crash on southbound Colima Road, just north of Mar Vista Street, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
He was behind the wheel of an SUV that swerved off the roadway for unknown reasons and struck a tree, Whittier police Officer John Scoggins said. The cause of the crash remained under investigation.
Following the fatal collision, a Whittier police officer on foot directing traffic at Colima Road and Carretera Avenue was struck by a northbound motorist, according to police and fire officials.
The officer suffered minor injuries, Lt. Aaron Ruiz said. He had been treated and released from a local hospital Saturday morning.
California Highway Patrol officers were investigating the collision involving the police officer, officials said. The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.

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2nd UPDATE: Man killed in Whittier crash; police officer struck by car while directing traffic


WHITTIER >> A man died in a solo-vehicle crash and a Whittier police officer directing traffic around the scene was struck an injured by a passing vehicle Friday afternoon along Colima Road in Whittier, authorities said.
The series of events began about 5:15 p.m., when an SUV heading south on Colima Road struck a tree just north of Mar Vista Street, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Randall Atanay said.
“According to early reports, the driver, for unknown reasons, veered off the roadway and collided with a tree,” Whittier police Officer John Scoggins said. “As a result of the impact, he was trapped inside the vehicle and fire had to extricate him.”
Once freed from the wreckage, paramedics pronounced the driver of the SUV dead at the scene, Atanay said. He was initially described as 60 years old.
A Whittier police officer who was on foot directing traffic around the crash scene about half an hour later was struck by a passing vehicle at Colima Road and Carretera Drive, just south of the original crash, Scoggins said.
Firefighters took the officer to a hospital with injuries considered to be minor, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Todd Emrick said.
Both crashes remained under investigation, Scoggins said. Whittier police were investigating the fatal crash, while California Highway Patrol officers took charge of the investigation into the police officer being struck.
The driver who struck the officer remained and the scene, officials said.
Officials shut down both the northbound and southbound lanes of Colima Road between Whittier Boulevard and Mar Vista Street for several hours following the crashes, Scoggins said.
Traffic was expected to be affected into late Friday night, and possible into early Saturday.

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Man convicted of 1981 rape, killing of Whittier woman

Joseph Allen Thornton

WHITTIER >> A man arrested more than 30 years after the 1981 rape and killing of a woman inside her Whittier home pleaded “no contest” to four felony charges Tuesday, on what would have been his victim’s 55th birthday, authorities said.
Joseph Allen Thornton, 53, immediately received a sentence of 24 years to life in state prison after entering his pleas in Norwalk Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Initially charged with murder, Thornton pleaded “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter, rape, sodomy by force and digital penetration by force, district attorney’s officials said.
For more than 30 years, Thornton had gotten away with the June 27, 1981, slaying of 21-year-old Blanca Negrete in her home in the 7900 block of Washington Avenue.
“At the time of the slaying, detectives had exhausted all leads and the case eventually went cold,” Ardalani said in a written statement.
Blanca Stella NegreteBut Whittier Police Department investigators reopened the cold case in 2010, and identified Thornton as a suspect in the crime in January of 2011 via previously unusable DNA evidence, police officials said at the time.
DNA evidence had been collected by investigators after the slaying occurred, however the technology of the time did not allow investigators to match it to a suspect, police said in a written statement. Thornton’s DNA had been entered into a law enforcement database as the result of a domestic violence conviction, Whittier police Lt. Kent Miller said at the time.
Once identified as a suspect, police turned their attention to locating and capturing Thornton, Miller said.
The trail led them as far away as Topeka, Kansas, where Thornton had stayed for many years after the killing, he said. Detectives ultimately tracked him down and arrested him in April, 2012, at his home in Auburn.
Negrete worked at what eventually became PIH Health Hospital at the time of her slaying, police said. What, if any, relationship that existed between her and her killer was unclear.
The conviction occurred on what would have been Negrete’s 55th birthday, Whittier police Officer John Scoggins said.
In addition to his prison sentence, Norwalk Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez ordered Thornton to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Ardalani said.

PHOTOS of convicted killer and rapist Joseph Thornton (above) and his victim, Blanca Negrete (below) courtesy of the Whittier Police Department.

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Man accused of series of arson fires in Whittier, Santa Fe Springs

SANTA FE SPRINGS >> A homeless man accused of setting at least four fires in Whittier and Santa Fe Springs over the weekend
pleaded not guilty Wednesday to four counts of arson, authorities said.
Police arrested Jesse Jesus Provencio, 27, Monday in connection with an arson fire reported the previous day in front of a Santa Fe Springs business, according to Whittier police officials and Los Angeles County booking records. He was described as a transient known to frequent the Santa Fe Springs area.
He’s accused with igniting four arson fires in all Sunday, scorching trees and brush but no structures, according to police and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials.
Police and firefighters responded shortly before 11:15 a.m. Sunday to a report of a palm tree on fire in the 11900 block of Burke Street, Whittier police said in a written statement.
“Upon arrival, officers found a palm tree to the front of a local business fully engulfed in flames,” according to the police statement. Santa Fe Springs firefighters quickly doused the flames.
“The business was closed at the time and there were no injuries reported,” according to the statement. The fire caused an estimated $300 worth of damage.
The suspect was gone when officials arrived, police said. But detectives obtained surveillance camera footage which had captured the image of the alleged arsonist. The description was distributed to patrol officers.
Officers spotted a man matching the description near the scene of the Burke Street fire just before 11 a.m. Monday and arrested him, police said. The suspect, later identified as Provencio, was arrested on suspicion of arson.
Investigators soon linked Provencio to at least three additional fires that occurred the same day.
In addition to the fire in the 11900 block of Burke Avenue, prosecutors also charged Provencio with lighting another small arson fire in the 11800 block of Burke Street in Santa Fe Springs, and two in the 11800 block of Grande Vista Avenue in Whittier, according to a felony complaint filed against him.
Investigators continued working to try to connect Provencio to other recent suspected arson fired, including one Saturday in the 11800 block of Washington Boulevard, near the 605 Freeway, in which eight palm trees were scorches, Scoggins said.
The officer added that is was fortunate the suspect was captured before the series of fires resulted in more serious property damage or injury.
While a motive for the alleged arsons was unclear, Scoggins said there was no indication Provencio harbored an particular animosity toward the business in front of which he lit the fire.
According to county booking records, Provencio was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail. He was scheduled to appear in Norwalk Superior Court Feb. 4 for a preliminary hearing setting, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.

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Chino Hills man fatally shot in Whittier identified

WHITTIER >> Coroner’s officials have released the name of a 26-year-old Chino Hills man killed in a shooting at Broadway Park Whittier last week.
Jesus David Molina, 26, died at a hospital shortly after he was shot about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday at Broadway Park, 12816 Broadway, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Kristy McCracken said.
Two male attackers approached Molina as he was sitting in the park, according to Whittier police Officer John Scroggins.
After a brief exchange of words, one of the two attackers shot Molina and fled, he said. Officers responding to reports of a shooting found Molina suffering from gunshot wounds to his chest.
No further details were available.

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UPDATED: Missing elderly Whittier man found safe

WHITTIER >> A 72-year-old Whittier man who went missing Friday during his usual walk on the Greenway Trail turned up safe and sound Sunday at a relative’s home, police said.
Roger Metzler disappeared after going got his routine walk on the Greenway Trail, Whittier police officials said in a written statement. He suffers from dementia and other medical problems and did not have his medication with him.
Concerned family members reported the man missing, officials said.
Metzler was found unharmed at a relative’s home Sunday, police said.

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Woman guilty of murder in husband’s 2007 shooting death in South Whittier

SOUTH WHITTIER >> Nearly seven years after a woman claimed she accidentally shot her husband to death at their Whittier home, a jury convicted her of murder Friday following her second trial.
The Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated for less than two days before finding Linda Gwozdz, 57, guilty of second-degree murder for the April 26, 2007, slaying of then-husband Patrick Duffey, 50, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Robert Villa said. The jury also found true the special allegation that she personally discharged a firearm during the crime, resulting in death.
Duffey was shot twice in the head, officials said.
Even following conviction, however, some key questions remain unanswered.
“She never expressed what the motive was,” Villa said. “She said he was her best friend.”
Duffey’s life was insured for $300,000, but through a judge’s ruling, the money went to the couple’s two sons, even though Gwodz was listed as the primary beneficiary, the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi reported. A death certificate provided to the insurance company listed Duffey’s cause of death as homicide due to multiple gunshots wounds.
Gwozdz faces up to 40 years to life in prison when she returns to court for sentencing March 9, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
A previous murder trial ended in a mistrial January after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Villa said.
The fatal shooting took place about 2:50 p.m. at the couple’s home in the 15800 block of Sharon Hill Drive, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, officials said. The couple’s two children were at school at the time.
Gwozdz herself called 9-1-1 to report the shooting.
“In the 9-1-1 call, she says he was teacher her how to shoot a gun, and the gun accidentally went off,” Villa said.
“But the evidence doesn’t really support that that’s what happened,” the prosecutor said. “It looked like he was sleeping on the couch.”
Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau interviewed Gwozdz the day of the shooting, and several times after in the years that followed, Villa said. In the meantime, she moved to Mississippi and re-married.
There was no documented history of domestic violence between Gwozdz and Duffey, Villa said.
Gwozdz story changed each time she was interviewed, Villa said. She first stated her husband was lying on the couch when the gun went off. She later said he had been sitting on the couch and lied down just as she aimed the .38-caliber revolver at the couch and inadvertently fired.
After several years of persistent investigation, detectives presented their findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, resulting in the filing of a murder case in May of 2012.
Authorities extradited Gwozdz back to Los Angeles County from Mississippi shortly after the case was filed, Ardalani said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested her June 7, 2012, according to county booking records. She was held in lieu of $2 million bail prior to her conviction.
— Staff Writer Stephanie Baer contributed to this report.
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UPDATED: 18-year-old Whittier man killed in fiery freeway crash in Industry mourned

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INDUSTRY >> Coroner’s officials have identified an 18-year-old college student from Whittier who died in a fiery crash on the 60 Freeway in Industry last week after his disabled car was rear-ended by a cargo van
Johnny Gonzalez Jr. died Jan. 13 following the 10:36 p.m. crash on the westbound 60 Freeway, just east of Fairway Drive, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
Coroner’s reports indicated Gonzalez called his father and said his car had suddenly died, Winter said.
“He told his father he couldn’t get his car to the right. The call suddenly ended,” Winter said.
A 2013 Chevrolet Express van travelling at about 70 mph slammed into Gonzalez’s disabled 1996 Toyota Corolla, which was stalled in the left-hand lane, California Highway Patrol Officer Rodrigo Jimenez said.
The force of the impact pushed both vehicles across the westbound traffic lanes of the freeway, and caused both to catch fire, the officer said.
Paramedics pronounced Gonzalez dead at the scene, officials said. He would have turned 19 two days later.
The driver of the van, a 36-year-old Menifee man, suffered an apparently minor injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
The crash remained under investigation by the Baldwin Park office of the CHP, however Jimenez said intoxicated driving was not initially suspected.
An autopsy determined Gonzalez died from “traumatic injuries,” and not as a result of the fire, Winter said. The death was ruled accidental.
The young man’s sudden loss hit family and friends hard, Gonzalez’s father Johnny Gonzalez Sr. said.
The young Gonzales grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Whittier about 10 years ago, his father said. He graduated from California High School in Whittier last year and was studying at Rio Hondo College.
“Johnny can make anybody smile,” Gonzalez Sr. said. “Johnny could make friends with anyone. He has a big heart.”
Gonzalez Sr. said he was amazed to see how many people paid respects to his son at a candlelight memorial at California High School last week.
Gonzalez Jr. enjoyed baseball, basketball and took part in his high school’s golf team during his senior year, his father said. He grew up playing travel baseball and basketball.
He collected miniature skateboards, which he constantly fidgeted with, Gonzalez said.
An online fund to help the family with burial costs has been set up at www.gofundme.com/keh51o.
Gonzalez Jr. was to be buried in a private ceremony.

PHOTO of Johnny Gonzalez Jr., 18, of Whittier (Courtesy)

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Whittier checkpoint nets 1 DUI arrest, 10 citations

WHITTIER >> Police arrested one alleged drunken driver and issued 10 citations during an overnight checkpoint in Whittier, officials said Saturday.
Officers screened 1,216 drivers during the checkpoint, which was held from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday on Whittier Boulevard at Redman Avenue, just east of the 605 Freeway, Whittier police Lt. Aaron Ruiz said.
Two drivers were given field sobriety tests, however only one of them was ultimately arrested for DUI, he said.
Officers cited nine people for driving without licenses and issued one additional “miscellaneous” citation, Ruiz said.
Police impounded two cars, one of them for 30 days, he added.

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