UPDATED: Fire scorches shed, two houses, vegetation in South Whitter

SOUTH WHITTIER >> A fire scorched a shed, two homes and a small patch of vegetation Friday afternoon before firefighters extinguished the flames, officials said.
The fire was first reported about 4:35 p.m. in the 11800 block of South Colima Road, just south of Leffingwell Road, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Cheryl Sims said.
Initially reported as a possible garage fire, firefighters arrived to find a shed and a small patch of vegetation on fire, Sims said. The fire also involved downed power and phone wires.
Firefighters extinguished the fire within about half an hour, though it was not declared officially “knocked down” for about an hour, Sims said. Firefighters summoned Southern California Edison and Verizon officials to take care of the damaged wiring.
No injuries were reported.
The fire was initially believed to have started in the shed, Gama said. It spread to a power pole, causing it to topple, spark and further spread the fire.
The shed sustained about $4,000 worth of damage, Gama said. A nearby home sustained about $10,000 worth of exterior damage, and another sustained about $6,000 worth of damage, but both remained inhabitable.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, Sims said.
About 40 residents of 10 nearby homes were briefly evacuated as a precaution, however they were able to return home shortly, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Ralph gama said.
Officials were preparing to use Los Altos Elementary School as an evacuation shelter, however that did not become necessary, according to sheriff’s and South Whittier School District officials.
“We had volunteers at the ready as well as food and water,” SWSD Associate Superintendant Michael Krause said in an email. “We will always be available to help our community in times of need.”

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UPDATED: Whitter man accused of knife, hammer attacks pleads not guilty

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NORWALK >> An alleged gang member accused of stabbing and seriously injuring his uncle in Pico Rivera, then stabbing and beating a former friend with a hammer in South Whittier two days later pleaded not guilty Thursday to a series of charges in connection with the December attacks, authorities said.
“Alfred Tapia was arraigned on two counts of attempted murder and one count each of mayhem and child abuse,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. He is additionally accused of the sentence-enhancing allegation that the crimes were gang-related.
Tapia, 34, fled to Mexico where he was apprehended and returned to the United States last month to face prosecution. If convicted as charged, he could face life in prison as a third strike offender, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The near-fatal stabbings and beating took place Dec. 3 at the home of Tapia’s uncle in the 8700 block of Olympic Boulevard in Pico Rivera, and Dec. 5 at the home of a former gang member and friend in the 10500 block of Nashville Avenue in South Whittier, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
In the first incident, Tapia went to his uncle’s home, where the two men had a “disagreement over a personal matter,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Tapia stabbed his uncle several times in the back, inflicting serious injuries including a collapsed lung and a punctured liver, sheriff’s officials said. Further details regarding what the men argued about were not available.
Two days later, Tapia arrived at the home of his former friend, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
“The man was home alone caring for his infant child,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Tapia chased the man outside and reportedly attacked him with a knife and hammer.”
Tapia’s second alleged victim suffered major injuries, including both stab wounds and blunt force trauma, Nishida said.
The charge of mayhem was filed due to injuries suffered by the second victim, Ardalani said. However prosecutors declined to describe the nature of the injuries.
Under California law, mayhem occurred when a person, “unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body, or disables, disfigures, or renders it useless, or cuts or disables the tongue, or puts out an eye, or slits the nose, ear, or lip.”
Tapia was also being investigated in connection with the Dec. 6 stabbing of another relative in Chino, however he has not been charged in connection with the incident.
Tapia was scheduled to return to Norwalk Superior Court June 2 for a preliminary hearing setting, officials said.

PHOTO of Alfred Tapia courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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Man and woman shot at, not injured, at Palm Park in Whittier

WHITTIER >> A man and a woman escaped injury after they were chased and shot at during a bizarre incident early Wednesday at Palm Park in Whittier, authorities said.
The incident unfolded just before 1 a.m. at the park, 5703 Palm Ave., Whittier police Lt. Steve Dean said.
A 24-year-old Whittier woman and a 28-year-old Monrovia man were sitting on a swing set at the park when they noticed a man approaching with a bandanna covering his face and a shiny object in his left hand, Dean said.
Believing they were about to be robbed, the man and woman began to run, Dean said. The masked man have chase.
When the man who was being chased stopped and turned to face his pursuer, the man raised his arm and fired a single shot toward him, the lieutenant said. The victim was not struck by the gunfire, and the shooter ran away.
The attacker was described as a Latino man, about 5 feet 11 inches tall and 190 pounds, Dean said.
A motive in the crime was not clear.
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Man wounded in shooting along Greenway trail in Whittier

WHITTIER — A man was shot late Tuesday along the Greenway Trail in Whittier, police said.
The shooting was reported about 11:30 p.m. at an entrance to the trail in the 12100 block of Philadelphia Avenue, Whittier police Lt. Steve Dean said.
The victim, described by police as a 30-year-old Paramount with gang ties, told officers he was walking when a he heard a male voice from behind him order him to turn over property, the lieutenant said.
As the man turned to face the voice, two shots rang out, Dean said. One of them struck the man in the torso, just below his arm.
Officials took the wounded man to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition, Dean said.
No description of the shooter was available.

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Whittier police to collect unwanted prescription drugs

WHITTIER — Whittier police will join the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies throughout the nation Saturday in collecting unwanted prescription drugs, officials said.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., residents are invited to bring unused, unwanted, expired and potentially dangerous prescription drugs to Whittier City Hall, 13230 Penn Street, for safe disposal, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked,” according to the police statement. Syringes will not be accepted at the event.
“This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue,” according to the police statement. “Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse.”
Simply throwing medications in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can pose safety and environmental hazards as well, officials added.
For more information, the Whittier Police Department can be reached at 562-567-9200.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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