Police checkpoint planned Friday in Whittier

WHITTIER — Police are planning to check drivers for sobriety and valid driver’s licenses during a checkpoint late Friday.
The checkpoint will be held from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location within Whittier, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
Over the past three years, four people have died and 167 people have been injured in DUI-related crashed in Whittier and Santa Fe Springs, Sgt. Rob Hanson said.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Man critically wounded in shooting at his Whittier home, suspect sought

A Whittier man remained hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday after he was shot inside his home Tuesday morning, officials said.
The shooting took place about 9:40 a.m. at the victim’s home in the 13300 block of Oval Drive, Whittier police Sgt. James Uhl said.
A 26-year-old resident of the home was shot in the chest and the abdomen, Lt. Aaron Ruiz said.
Police officers were already en route to a report of an “altercation” between two men when the shooting occurred, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“During the altercation and prior to the officer’s arrival, shots were fired and the victim was struck multiple times,” according to the police department statement.
Paramedics took the man to an area hospital, where he was listed in critical condition, officials said.
No description of the shooter was available, Uhl said, and detectives had not yet been able to interview the wounded man due to his medical condition.
Investigators were looking into whether the gunman barged into the home, or had been invited prior to the violent dispute.
“We don’t know how he got in,” the sergeant said. “There’s no evidence of forced entry.”
There were others in the home with the victim at the time of the shooting, however none were injured, officials said.
A motive in the shooting not clear, nor was whether the shooter and victim knew one another prior to Tuesday.
“At this time, it has not been determined what started the altercation; however it appears that this is an isolated incident,” the police statement said.

- Venusse Navid and Brian Day

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Dugout at La Serna High School destroyed in apparent arson fire


A dugout alongside the baseball diamond at La Serna High School was destroyed early Thursday in a suspected arson fire, police said.
Firefighters first responded to the fire at the campus, 15301 Youngwood Drive, about 5:30 a.m., Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“We’re suspecting it’s an arson,” Whittier police Sgt. Jim Uhl said.
The dugout also included a locker room and a coaches office, he said.
Officials estimate that the fire caused $50,000 worth of damage.
When school officials arrived at the campus about 7 a.m. and encountered the damage, as well as firefighters, they notified Whittier police, officials said. They became suspicious, as it was the second fire reported at the school this week.
“Apparently, some trash cans were set on fire near the tennis courts Monday night June 9th, however the Whittier Police were not called and no structures were involved,” according to the police statement.
“This morning La Serna High School staff felt that the fires on Monday night and the fires this morning were not isolated events and asked for the Whittier Police Department’s involvement.”
No information regarding a suspect or motive was available, and no further details were released.
Detectives spent about six hours at the scene collecting evidence and searching for clues, officials said. Whittier police detectives are working in conjunction with investigators from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“Other than the fires occurring on this specific campus, there appears to be no specific threats to staff or students and no other fires have been reported to the Whittier Police Department by area schools over the last few months,” according to the police statement.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective Dineen at the Whittier Police Department, which can be reached at 562-567-9241.

PHOTO by Leo Jarzomb

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Whittier woman sentenced for near-fatal shooting of Pico Rivera woman

PICO RIVERA — A judge sentenced a 35-year-old Whittier woman to more than three decades in state prison Thursday for serving as the getaway driver in the 2011 shooting of a Pico Rivera woman which left her in a vegetative state, authorities said.
Michele Caldera received a prison term of 32 years to life in Norwalk Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
She faced a maximum sentence of 40 years to life in prison following her April 14 conviction for the attempted murder of then-36-year-old Gloria Montes on May 19, 2011, officials said. A jury also convicted her of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and found true the special allegation that the attack was gang-related.
Montes was shot in the head as she slept in her home in the 5300 block of Lindsey Avenue in Pico Rivera.
Montes testified from a wheelchair during earlier court proceedings, but has since taken a turn for the worst and is now in a vegetative state, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Brock Lunsford said.
Caldera drove triggerman Arthur Lerma, 36, of Whittier and Jose Trejo, 24, of Pico Rivera to the scene of the shooting.
“At trial, the prosecutor said Lerma targeted the victim because she told police that he was involved in a robbery,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Lerma served eight years in prison for a 2002 robbery, and had recently been paroled when the shooting occurred, investigators said.
“While Lerma was in prison, he sent the victim a letter that said he knew she snitched on him. Furthermore, Lerma said he was going to kill her when he got out of prison.”
The three defendants were partying together at a motel when Caldera borrowed a car to drive Lerma and Trejo home, prosecutors said. But the three made a stop in an alley outside Montes’ home.
“The two men approached and Lerma yelled out, “Go-Go,” which was the victim’s nickname,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “The female victim answered and Lerma shot her in the head.”
A jury convicted Lerma in April of attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The jury also found that the crime was gang-related.
Lerma received a sentence of 60 years to life in prison May 7.
Trejo, who had pleaded “no contest” to a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, was expected to receive eight years in state prison when he returned to Norwalk Superior Court for sentencing June 3. He testified during the trial for Lerma and Caldera.
Prosecutors described Lerma and Trejo as members of the Pico Nuevo street gang, and Caldera as a member of the Whittier Varrio Locos gang, which is allied with Pico Nuevo.
Montes, a self-described Pico Nuevo gang member, testified at a 2012 preliminary hearing that she had been close friends with people named Arthur Lerma and Michele Caldera, but she did not recognize them in the courtroom. She further testified that if she knew the identity of her attackers, she would not say.
She also testified she did not recall receiving the threatening letter from Lerma while he was in prison for the 2002 robbery.
Officials said that while Montes had been interviewed by detectives regarding the 2002 robbery, she never testified against Lerma.

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Police plan checkpoint in Whittier

WHITTIER — Police are planning a sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint late Saturday, officials said.
The checkpoint will take place from 7:30 p.m. Saturday to 2:30 a.m. Sunday at an undisclosed location within Whittier, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“Over the course of the past three years in the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs, DUI collisions have claimed four lives and resulted in 119 injury crashes harming 167 of our friends and neighbors,” Sgt. Rob Hanson said.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Police open house, health fair, kids’ run planned Saturday in Whittier

WHITTIER >> The community is invited to join in free festivities Saturday at a police open house, health fair, children’s run.
The events will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Whittier City Hall, 13230 Penn Street, city officials said in a written statement.
A “Kiddie-K” run for children will step off at 10 a.m., with registration opening at 9 a.m.
There will also be tours of the police station, rock climbing, health information and screenings, a jaws of life demonstration, fire and police equipment on display, a K-9 demonstration, food available for purchase, an inflatable slide, and more, organizers said.
The events are being sponsored by the city of Whittier, the Whittier Police Department and PIH Health Hospital.
For more information, contact the Whittier Community Center at 562-567-9430, or the Whittier Police Department at 562-567-9200.

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UPDATED: Whittier man fatally shot in his front yard; suspect surrenders


WHITTIER >> A suspect turned himself in early Sunday in connection with the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Whittier man in the front yard of his Whittier home, authorities said.
Augustin Garcia, 27, of Whittier, was arrested on suspicion of murder at 1:50 a.m. after he arrived at the Whittier Police Department and surrendered, according to Whittier police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Coroner’s officials had not officially identified the shooting victim Sunday as his body remained at the hospital, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said.
But his girlfriend, 22-year-old Gloria Alvarado, identified him as Richard “Richie” Mationg.
Police responded to reports of gunshots just after 9 p.m. Saturday in the 5800 block of Ben Alder Avenue, according to Whittier police Officer Brad White.
“When officers arrived, they located a 22-year-old male lying in the front yard of his residence with what appeared to be a single gunshot wound to his chest,” White said in a written statement.
0512_NWS_WDN-L-WHITFATAL2The badly wounded man was rushed to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m., Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
“An unidentified male suspect was seen fleeing the location in a silver vehicle,” White said.
As the investigation continued, Garcia showed up at the police station Sunday morning and surrendered in connection with the shooting.
The suspect and victim were believed to know each other, officials said, however further details regarding the circumstances of the shooting were not available.
Alvarado and friends of Mationg gathered at a memorial of candles, flowers and photos of Mationg, along with his favorite beers and snack foods. They said they didn’t know anyone by the name of Augustin Garcia.
Mationg had lived at the Ben Alder Avenue home with his family for about 12 years, Alvarado said.
He worked at a CVS Pharmacy and was expected to make manager soon, she said. He had just purchased a new car — a 2012 Dodge Avenger — and was yet to make his first payment on it.
“There are just a lot of people that loved him,” Alvarado said.
“He was the funniest person ever. He gave good advice,” she added. “He was a really good guy.”
Friend Amber Ventura, 22, also mourned Sunday at the roadside memorial.
Ventura said Mationg “looked out for everybody. He was like a big brother.”
Garcia was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending his initial court appearance, according to booking records.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Whittier Police Department.

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Caltrans pays tribute to 183 fallen road workers at ceremony in Whittier


Officials from Caltrans District 7 and dignitaries met in Whittier Thursday to pay tribute to the 183 Caltrans workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, both locally and statewide.
Coveralls and helmets represented fallen workers at the somber ceremony and damaged equipment was on display as a sobering reminder of the danger faced by Caltrans workers every day.
Of the 183 Caltrans employees killed since 1921, 32 of them worked for Caltrans District 7, which operates in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Caltrans officials said in a written statement.
0509_NWS_WDN-L-CALTRANS2Speakers at the event, held at Caltrans’ East Region Maintenance Station, 1940 S. Workman Mill Road in Whittier, included California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Bill Dance, a Caltrans worker who was struck by a car on the 10 Freeway last week and his father and others.
“Our crews put themselves in harm’s way to maintain California’s transportation infrastructure and to help ensure motorists and goods and services get to where they need to go,” Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen said.
“We will never forget our fallen and we will never forget the risks they take every day and night working within a few feet or inches of vehicles zipping by,” Bowen said. “All motorists must remember those that you will leave behind if you become complacent or careless about your safety and the safety of those around you.”
A U.S. Department of Labor study has found highway workers are seven times more likely to be killed while on-duty than the average worker, according to the Caltrans statement.
“On average 1,000 Caltrans vehicles are struck each year. Highway work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States,” the statement said.
Most recently, Shawn Baker, 50, of Weed, and Joseph “Robert” Jones, 40, of Montague, were killed while working on a rock-scaling operation to stabilize a hillside near Yreka in Northern California, according to the Caltrans statement. “Their deaths ended a two-year stretch without a highway maintenance worker fatality.”
The tally of fallen Caltrans workers does not include contractors killed in the course of their work while working on Caltrans projects.
The total number of road workers, both Caltrans-employed and contractors, exceeds 200, officials said.
Connor McDermott Penhall, 21, of Corona was killed by a drunken driver while working on a construction project on the 10 Freeway near Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park. The driver has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

PHOTOS courtesy of Caltrans

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Man convicted of two counts of murder in violent 2004 robbery spree spanning San Gabriel Valley, Whittier


LOS ANGELES >> The last of five defendants in a violent 2004 robbery spree in Whittier and the San Gabriel Valley that left two men dead could face the death penalty after a jury convicted him Wednesday of 21 charges, including two counts of murder with special circumstances.
Leonardo Cisneros, 29, of Montebello could face the death penalty for the spree which spanned Los Angeles County cities including Whittier, San Gabriel, El Monte, Alhambra, South Pasadena and San Marino, according to prosecutors and investigators.
“The jury deliberated about two hours today before finding Leonardo Cisneros guilty of all 21 counts, including two counts of first degree murder, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
The other charges include 18 counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery, she said.
The jury also found true the special circumstances of multiple murders, murders during the course of robberies and personal use of a gun in the vast majority of the crimes. The special circumstances make him eligible for the death penalty.
“They come back on Monday to begin the penalty phase, because we are seeking death in this case,” Robison said.
Pasadena City College student Joseph Molina was working at a Whittier Subway sandwich shop on Dec. 10, 2004 when it was robbed. The 22-year-old Whittier resident was fatally shot by Cisneros.
MOLINAMolina was shot after he failed to remove money from a cash register fast enough for the robbers who had stormed into the restaurant at Beverly and Norwalk boulevards, investigators said.
The other victim slain during the spree was businessman Dianqui Wu, 50, of Rowland Heights, who was fatally shot during an Aug. 4, 2004 robbery in a San Gabriel parking lot.
Cisneros and Jose Resendez, 36, robbed Wu and a friend late at night as they arrived at the friend’s business in the 1800 block of South Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel to use the facility’s Internet, Robison said. Cisneros robbed Wu as Resendez robbed the friend.
“Wu got scared and started running away,” Robison said. “Cisneros chased him about 40 feet, pushed him to the ground and executed him basically, shot him once in the torso.”
Cisneros grabbed Wu’s wallet before fleeing, Robison said.
Wu died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center less than an hour later, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The jury found that Cisneros pulled the trigger in both slayings, court officials said.
Four other defendants in the case took plea deals.
Resendez has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slaying of Wu; Bernadette Corvera, 32, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery in Molina’s slaying; and Mitzie Ann Oso, 35, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the killings of Wu and Molina. All three were due to be sentenced June 2.
Resendez and Corvera were expected to receive sentences of 15 years to life in prison, while Oso was expected to receive an eight-year prison term. They could have faced life sentences if convicted at trial, rather than accepting plea bargains.
When entering their pleas in recent years, the three defendants agreed to testify truthfully if called as witnesses in Cisneros’ trial, Robison said.
They were called as witnesses, and all three testified about their involvement in the crimes, as well as Cisneros’, Robison said.
Another defendant, 30-year-old Sara Lopez, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Wu’s slaying and was sentenced to three years of probation.
— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.

FILE PHOTOS: Top: Murder and robbery spree convict Leonardo Cisneros; Below: Slaying victim Joseph Molina, 22, of Whittier.

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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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