A former Arcadia police officer pleaded “no contest” Friday to embezzling more than $40,000 from the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association to buy motorcycle parts and other personal items, officials said.
Christian Blesch, 36, entered the plea Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court at a scheduled pre-trial conference, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. He had been charged with one count of grand theft by embezzlement.
Under a plea agreement, Blesch was expected to be sentenced to 180 days in county jail and three years of probation when he returns to court for sentencing Sept. 30, officials said.
If convicted at trial, he faced a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
“Blesch began stealing funds from the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association after being elected as its treasurer in 2011,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Blesch used the association’s credit cards to buy parts and accessories for his own motorcycles as well as other personal items such as clothing, exercise equipment and cigars.”
Blesch paid the monthly credit cards bills with funds from the association’s checking account, prosecutor said.
As part of his plea agreement, Blesch was ordered to pay nearly $42,000 in restitution, according to the district attorney’s office.
The theft took place over the course of several months, Arcadia police Capt. Paul Foley said shortly after Blesch’s arrest in late September.
Blesch resigned from the Arcadia Police Department and turned himself in to officials Oct. 2, a week after investigators obtained a warrant for his arrest Sept. 24, police and district attorney’s officials said.
Blesch remained free on $45,000 bail pending his legal proceeding.
A second Arcadia Police officer was placed on administrative leave along with Blesch when the missing money first came to light in March of 2013, officials said. The officer remains on leave, however, charges have not been filed against him.
LA VERNE — Police are planning a sobriety and drivers’ license checkpoint late Saturday in La Verne, official said.
The checkpoint will be held from 7 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday at an undisclosed location within the city, La Verne police officials said in a written statement.
Over the past three years in La Verne, 26 people have been injured in DUI-related crashes,” La Verne police Sgt. Dave Mortazavi said. A total of 53 DUI-related crashes took place over the past three years.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
EL MONTE — A pilot and passenger walked away unscathed Thursday after making an emergency landing without a landing gear at El Monte Airport, authorities said.
Officials received word just before 7 p.m. that a small Cessna airplane with two people on board was in trouble as it approached El monte Airport, 4233 Santa Anita Ave., Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett said.
“Their landing gear failed, so they called an emergency,” Pickett said.
Firefighters rushed to the airport and prepared for the worst. But the plane touched down without injury to the pilot or passenger, despite the lack of a landing gear.
“It skidded off the runway. Everybody walked away,” Pickett said. The aircraft was damaged, but the extent of the damage was not clear.
EL MONTE >> A task force targeting auto theft and street racing issued more than 100 citations late Wednesday at a meeting of car enthusiasts along Valley Boulevard in El Monte, officials said.
Dozens of police officers, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and other law enforcement officials took part in the enforcement operation, which took place Wednesday night at a shopping center parking lot along Valley Boulevard, just south of the 10 Freeway, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said.
‘At least 115 vehicle citations were issued,” Luna said. “There were over 135 vehicle inspections done.”
The majority of tickets were issued for illegal vehicle modifications, such as exhaust systems, improper lighting and nitrous oxide boosters, Luna said.
A man was arrested after officials discovered the engine in his car was stolen, he said.
The operation was carried out in response to complaints emanating from the parking lot, which police said has recently become popular with car enthusiasts. It was spearheaded by the multi-agency Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention.
“For the past several weeks, groups of people have congregated there on Wednesday nights,” Luna said. “The vehicles are modified and have several changes to them for the purpose of racing.”
Complaints include revving engines, as well as drinking and drug use, the sergeant said.
A man began serving a six-year prison sentenced this week after he was convicted of 12 counts of arson for torching cars and brush near his South Pasadena home.
The five-month arson spree of Javier Adolfo Viera, 36, began in November of 2012 and ended with his arrest in April of 2013, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Frances Young of the DA’s Arson-Explosives Section said.
An Alhambra Superior Court jury convicted him Tuesday of one count of arson and was continuing to deliberate on the other 11 counts when Viera announced he would plead “no contest” to the remaining charges, Young said.
He was immediately sentenced to six years in state prison and ordered to register on a state database of arsonists.
The arson fires targeted six cars and six spots of brush in the general vicinity of the Arroyo Seco, Young said. He began lighting brush fires before graduating to vehicles.
Viera told investigators he lit the fires out of jealousy and frustration.
“He was not happy with the way his life turned out. He begrudged people their good fortunes,” the prosecutor said.
The cars scorched by the arsonist included a Mercedes-Benz, an Audi, a new Volkswagen, a Honda Hybrid, a Toyota Prius and a 1972 International Harvester Scout, Young said.
“They were all really nice cars,” she added.
The fires appeared to be growing increasingly more dangerous, with one lit only inches away from a 10-unit apartment building. The cars were torched while parked in residential neighborhoods.
Following his arrest after his final car fire in Los Angeles, Viera confessed to other arsons, South Pasadena police Sgt. Robert Bartl said at the time. He told police he never meant to hurt anyone and needed help.
The brush fires all remained small, largely due to vigilant neighbors who spotted and doused the fires with water bottles and garden hoses while they remained small, Young said.
The brush fires were lit with toilet paper and cotton balls, Bartl said.
When he switched to lighting car fires, he began using trash bags full of pine needles with he left beneath the cars’ gas tanks and set afire, police said.
Viera was initially charged with 18 counts of arson, though six of the counts were dismissed prior to trial, Young said.
Additionally, investigators were looking into him in connection with at least eight additional fires in South Pasadena, Pasadena and Los Angeles, though no charges have been filed in those cases.
Viera was ordered back to court for a restitution hearing Aug. 22, Young said. He was disputing the $109,000 in alleged damages the prosecutor said he owed the victim for the damage he caused.
PASADENA >> A 24-year-old ironworker died at a hospital over the weekend after he was injured in a fall while working at an office building construction site in Pasadena, officials confirmed Thursday.
Robert Carrasco died Sunday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena hospital, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. His city of residence was not clear.
He was injured about 10 a.m. July 9 while working at the construction site for the five-story Playhouse Plaza office building, at the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and El Molina Avenue, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
Carrasco had taken a fall from about 15 feet up and suffered major blunt force injuries, she said. He was hospitalized in severe condition.
Carrasco succumbed to his injuries shortly before noon Sunday, Winter said. An autopsy was pending.
A large beam atop the massive construction project was painted with yellow letters reading, “Dedicated to Robert Carrasco IW Local 433.”
“We would like to send our condolences to the Family of Robert Carrasco,” a statement on the Ironworkers Local 433 website read. “Robert passed away on 7/13/2014 as a result of an on the job injury. If you would like to make a donation to the family you may due so at any of the Union Halls.”
Funeral services had no yet been scheduled, according to the union.
Further details of the incident were not available. An investigation was to be carried out by the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
PASADENA >> A terrified family of six found themselves in the midst of a hail of bullets Saturday afternoon when they arrived home just as a shooting rampage began that left three people dead and two others wounded.
Sandra Barraza, 37, her husband, Alfredo Garcia, 41, and their four children had just returned from the store when they noticed a police SUV and a patrol car parked in front of their house, Garcia said.
They did not see the body of a woman who had been fatally shot lying behind a tree across the street, or the body of a man who also had been shot to death just up the street.
Suddenly, a group of police officers carrying rifles yelled to the family to get inside.
“We took two steps, and the shooting started,” said the couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Melissa Perez. Also in the driveway were Perez’s 12- and 15-year-old brothers and her 16-year-old sister.
An officer fled to cover behind the police SUV as the gunman, later identified by police as 44-year-old John Izeal Smith of Pasadena, continued shooting, riddling the vehicle with bullets. The family stood directly behind the SUV when the gunfire began.
Bullets flew on both sides of the family’s driveway as they ran for their home, Sandra Barraza said. Her husband added that he could see smoke rising from the AK-47-type rifle wielded by the gunman as he fired from the front lawn of the home across the street.
“It was horrible. Like a movie scene,” Barraza said. “I was so scared. He was right in front of us.”
Photo by James Carbone
WALNUT — A 68-year-old Walnut man died late Saturday after his vehicle struck a utility pole near Mt. SAC, authorities said.
Loi Van Nguyen died at the scene of the crash, which took place about 7 p.m. on Temple Avenue at Service Road, according to Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said and California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada.
No further details were available regarding the crash, which was being investigated by the Baldwin Park Office of the CHP.
PASADENA — Coroner’s officials Sunday released the name of one of three people killed in a mass shooting on a residential Pasadena street that also left two others wounded.
Maria Teresa Aguiar, 59, died along with two men at the scene of Saturday’s deadly rampage in the 1700 block of North Summit Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said.
Her city of residence was not yet listed at the coroner’s office Sunday morning, however public records indicated Aguiar lived on the street where the shooting took place. A phone number listed as belonging to Aguiar was not working.
The identities of the two men killed in the attack have not been released.
A man and woman were also shot by suspect John Izeal Smith of Pasadena, who eventually surrendered to police after firing on an officer with a semi-automatic rifle and engaging in a brief stand-off, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said.
“We’re talking upwards of 40 rounds that were fired,” the chief said. Police did not return fire.
INDUSTRY — Two men and a woman died early Sunday after the car they were riding in went off the side of the 60 Freeway in Industry, landing in a construction site, authorities said.
The crash occurred just before 6:50 a.m. on the westbound 60 Freeway at Crossroads Parkway, California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada said.
A Kia Soul was traveling at an undetermined speed when it veered to the right of the road, and across the onramp and offramp for the westbound 60 Freeway, she said.
“The vehicle went off the freeway,” Posada said. “At some point, it went airborne and ended up in a construction site.”
The three occupants of the Kia were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. They were initially described as two men and a woman in their 20s.
A Sig Alert remained in effect for several hours for the onramp and offramp to the westbound 60 Freeway as officers from the Santa Fe Springs office of the CHP conducted an investigation.
PHOTO courtesy of the CHP.