Southern California News Roundup




LOS ANGELES (CNS) – As COVID-19 numbers continue to improve in Los Angeles County, and with more restrictions likely to be lifted in coming weeks, the county’s public health director warned today that while an end to the pandemic is in sight, it’s not over yet.

“Our biggest worry is, of course, that people will relax too much, decide not to wear their face mask, decide not to keep their distance, decide to go back to having big parties,” Barbara Ferrer said during a virtual briefing. “We’re just not there yet. None of that would be safe at this point, and all of it can cause spread.”

SANTA ANA (CNS) – Orange County today continued to show declining trends in cases of COVID-19, giving county officials hope of graduating to the less-restrictive red tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening system by St. Patrick’s Day.

The county reported 160 new COVID-19 cases, hiking the cumulative total to 246,980, and 14 more fatalities, raising the death toll to 3,966.

LONG BEACH (CNS) – Gov. Gavin Newsom said today the state is having “advanced conversations” with Major League Baseball and local health authorities around California, and he expressed confidence that if COVID-19 trends continue downward, fans will be back in the seats of outdoor stadiums when baseball season begins.

“We will socialize those conversations very, very shortly, we’re working on the final details,” Newsom said during a visit to Long Beach. “We’ve been working very closely with Major League Baseball, others across the spectrum, working with local health officers, and we’ll be updating those guidelines as well.”

LONG BEACH (CNS) – While painting a rosy picture of California’s work controlling the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom again preached continued vigilance and mask-wearing, despite Texas and Mississippi lifting such mandates, noting that yet another virus variant has been found in the state.

“We’re making progress but it is … not mission accomplished,” Newsom said during a visit to Long Beach. “And as we transition over the course of the next 90 to 100 days to get where the president and others have assured us we will be — and that’s a framework of abundance as it relates to vaccines and we begin to more quickly reopen our businesses and our schools — we must be mindful of these variants.”

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles City Council today approved a motion that would expand Project Roomkey and explore commandeering non-cooperating hotels and motels to house homeless people through the program.

The vote was 14-0, with one member absent.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – An ex-convict who allegedly fatally stabbed a male relative at an apartment in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles was charged today with murder and other counts.

James Anthony Lesnau, 28, is charged with one felony count each of murder, first-degree residential burglary, battery with serious bodily injury, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, attempted mayhem and two felony counts each of criminal threats and assault with a deadly weapon.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Thirty years ago today, plumber George Holliday was asleep in his Lake View Terrace apartment when he was awakened by a commotion outside so loud it prompted him to grab his video camera and walk to his balcony to see what was amiss.

With a hovering Los Angeles Police Department helicopter’s spotlight providing the illumination, the scene Holliday captured with his Sony Handycam changed history.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles City Council today finalized an emergency ordinance to require large grocery and pharmacy retailers to offer employees an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council members last week approved the ordinance on a 14-1 vote — but a unanimous vote was needed for passage on first reading. During the second reading, a dozen yes votes were required for approval and the measure was again approved 14-1, with Councilman John Lee reaffirming his dissent.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Manhattan Beach police officer has been charged with sending sexually explicit messages to a 15-year-old girl he initially met while she was at the police station to report a crime, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced today.

John Cheatham, 33, is set to be arraigned June 24 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on two felony counts of contacting a minor for a sexual offense and one misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a child, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

PASADENA (CNS) – Tournament of Roses officials said today they are actively planning for a return of the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 2022, following the cancellation of this year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only the fourth time the event has been scrubbed in 130 years.

The organization is also planning for the return of the Rose Bowl Game, which was moved this year to Texas due to restrictions that prevented fans from attending the event.

IRVINE (CNS) – As part of a legal settlement, UC Irvine has agreed to spend $6.5 million to improve traffic around a proposed medical complex on the university campus, it was announced today.

After the university unveiled its plans for a 144-bed hospital on the campus in January, city officials filed a challenge to the environmental impact report approved by the University of California Board of Regents last month.

SANTA ANA (CNS) – A 49-year-old man was charged today with two robberies in Irvine, including an armed heist at a supermarket, and an aborted holdup at an Adidas store.

Benjamin Robert Laubbacher is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail pending arraignment March 19 on two counts of robbery and one count each of attempted robbery and possession of an assault weapon, all felonies. He also faces sentencing enhancement allegations for the personal use of a gun, and personal use of a deadly weapon.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Sheriff’s investigators have obtained a search warrant to access the “black box” in the Genesis GV80 SUV golfer Tiger Woods was driving when he crashed in Rancho Palos Verdes, with Sheriff Alex Villanueva saying today it will hopefully help determine what caused the accident.

“They’re going to go through it and see if they can find out what was the performance of the vehicle, what was happening at the time of impact,” Villanueva said. “And with that they’ll have more information they can attribute the cause of the accident. And that’s all it is.”

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A suspect arrested following a pursuit that ended with a deadly crash in the Fairfax District rammed a deputy sheriff’s car during an earlier traffic stop and then fled the scene, sparking the chase that led to the death of an uninvolved motorist, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said today.

The crash occurred around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday near Fairfax Avenue and Third Street when the driver of a silver sedan being chased by deputies crashed into a blue SUV, killing the driver, identified by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office Wednesday as Jeeves Tangonan, 37, of Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Caltrans today asked the public to provide input via a new map-based survey on where the state transportation agency should make roadway improvements to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The survey data will be used to help Caltrans identify spots on or near the state highway system for enhancements and detail to type of work needed, allowing the department to “evaluate these locations in developing future projects.”

WESTMINSTER (CNS) – A former chef at a Seal Beach restaurant pleaded guilty today and was immediately sentenced to three years in prison for serving a spiked drink to one of his patrons and raping her while she was unconscious.

The victim told police she went to a Seal Beach restaurant on Feb. 13, 2018, where Darryl Lee Matanane was working and he served her an alcoholic drink, according to Seal Beach Police Department Sgt. Michael Henderson.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A vehicle crashed into the side of a building in South Los Angeles today and one person was taken to a hospital.

The crash occurred about 5:30 p.m. near West Vernon Avenue and Hoover Street, said Nicholas Prange with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – In accordance with state and local guidelines that cleared the way for a resumption of youth sports, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner today authorized students aged 13 and older to participate in outdoor competitions.

COVID-19 new-case rates fell low enough in the county last month to allow the resumption of youth competition in sports such as football, basketball, soccer and water polo, at the discretion of school districts and private clubs and leagues.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A motion to develop a method of evaluating the city’s insurance providers based on the extent that they invest in fossil fuel operations was approved today by the Los Angeles City Council.

“It’s absolutely unconscionable how so many insurance companies are investing in and underwriting risky fossil fuel projects with zero thought about the climate or care for the wellbeing of future generations,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who authored the motion.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Electrical service was knocked out today to about 45,000 customers in neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles due to a fire at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power receiving station.

Firefighters were sent to the facility in the 1800 block of Centinela Avenue at 10:16 a.m. and extinguished the flames, the Los Angeles Fire Department reported. No one was hurt.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Democratic Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager will be sworn in to the state Senate later this month after receiving two-thirds of the vote in a seven-candidate field to win the special election to fill the vacant 30th Senate District seat.

Kamlager received 67.67% of the vote in Tuesday’s election, easily surpassing the majority needed to avoid a runoff, according to semi-official results released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee, a fellow Democrat, was second with 13.46%.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The FBI confirmed today it is working with two elite private schools in the Southland to find out who hacked into their servers, reportedly exposing confidential teacher salary details and parent contact information.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, one or more hackers published staff payroll documentation in email blasts riddled with racist, sexist and homophobic language, targeting the Center for Early Education in West Hollywood and Carlthorp in Santa Monica.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles City Council today passed a resolution in support of state legislation that would require major corporations that do business in California to disclose their carbon footprint and set goals to reduce emissions.

The Climate Corporate Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, would require businesses that make more than $1 billion annually to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is understandable and accessible to the public and to set emission reduction targets.

POMONA (CNS) – A Long Beach man who pleaded guilty to murdering his estranged wife in Covina and another woman who was shot two months earlier in Azusa was sentenced today to 40 years to life in state prison.

Miguel Angel Prieto, 46, pleaded guilty Feb. 24 to one count each of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, along with two counts of attempted murder.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A judge has pared a lawsuit filed by the former general counsel for the Antelope Valley Union High School District, who sued the district and three individuals contending she was fired in 2019 for blowing the whistle on allegedly illegal contracts that would have provided financial windfalls to some trustees.

Bridget Cook, who is Black, also alleges she was the victim of race and gender discrimination. She filed her case last Aug. 26 in Los Angeles Superior Court against the district and several school officials, including Board of Education members Victoria M. Ruffin and Amanda L. Parrell and former trustee Robert “Bob” Davis.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announced today that PeopleConnect Inc., which runs the social networking site, will pay $400,000 in penalties and up to $150,000 in restitution to settle a civil lawsuit alleging the company charged customers for automatic renewal without their express consent.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn signed the stipulated final judgment between prosecutors and PeopleConnect Inc. on Monday. The company did not admit wrongdoing, but cooperated with prosecutors on the resolution and is taking steps to correct its violations, according to Gascon.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Police asked for the public’s help today locating the person responsible for stealing a car containing two original paintings in the Westchester area.

The auto theft occurred sometime after 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 near West Kenyon Avenue and 80th Street, where the victim parked his four-door Lincoln MKZ and left it for the night, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Southland was cold and partially wet today, as a small low-pressure system moved through the area, bringing light rain and a chance of snow in the mountains.

“Rainfall totals are expected to remain on the light side with most areas receiving less than one-quarter inch,” the National Weather Service said. “However, locally higher amounts, up to around three-quarters of an inch, will be possible over the San Gabriel Mountains.”

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Pixar’s Golden Globe-winning “Soul” and the independent feature “Wolfwalkers” were the top nominees announced today for the 48th annual Annie Awards, honoring the best in animation from the past year.

“Soul” was nominated for best animated feature, along with another Pixar film, “Onward,” Netflix’s “The Willoughbys” and a pair of DreamWorks Animation films, “The Croods: A New Age” and “Trolls World Tour.”

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Deputies asked the public’s help today locating a missing man with dementia who was last seen in the unincorporated area of East Compton.

Francisco Guemes Reyes, 58, was last seen about 10:30 a.m. Monday in the 14700 block of South White Avenue, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.

SAN PEDRO (CNS) – An investigation was continuing today into the deaths of a young man and woman found at the base of a cliff near Point Fermin Park in San Pedro, but police said there was no evidence of foul play.

The bodies of 23-year-old Brandon Escobar and 21-year-old Rayana Valdez were discovered about 5:20 p.m. Monday on rocks near the shoreline in the 500 block of West Paseo Del Mar.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Mexican national newly designated by the United States government as a narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Designation Act is a major player in a cartel responsible for much of the fentanyl and other drugs that make it onto Southland streets, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles Field Division.

Abouzaid El Bayeh, who remains a fugitive. allegedly played a high-level role in facilitating drug shipments and money laundering for the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, a violent Mexican drug trafficking organization that “is responsible for the majority of the fentanyl, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs that flood Los Angeles,” said Bill Bodner, the DEA L.A. Field Division’s special agent in charge.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Hawthorne-based physician has settled allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by receiving kickbacks and other improper payments in exchange for referring patients to Memorial Hospital of Gardena, the Justice Department announced today.

Dr. Ashok Kumar paid $215,228 on Monday to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged Memorial Hospital provided compensation to Kumar, who was hired as a medical director, that both exceeded the fair market value of his services and was an attempt to incentivize him to refer patients to their hospital.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The city’s West Valley animal shelter will reopen on March 15 after temporarily closing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles officials said today.

“Since last summer, I have fought to get the West Valley Center reopened as a city-operated animal shelter, and I’m very glad to let our residents know that we succeeded,” Councilman John Lee said in a statement Wednesday.

SANTA ANA (CNS) – A 34-year-old man was charged today with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and child annoyance of a 9-year-old boy, who were his roommates in an apartment in Orange.

Olbin Noel Zunigaalvarez was charged with single felony counts of sexual penetration of a child 14 and older by a foreign object and by force, assault of a minor with the intent to commit a sex offense, sexual battery and lewd act on a child 14 or 15 as well as a misdemeanor count of child annoyance, according to court records.

SANTA MONICA (CNS) – Outdoor dining will be expanded along the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica as part of an effort to support restaurants as they reopen and recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials announced today.

“Adapting public space for expanded outdoor dining is a key initiative in our business recovery efforts,” said Kathleen Rawson, Downtown Santa Monica Inc.’s chief executive officer. “We are so inspired by the resilience and innovation of the businesses as they continue to navigate change. We know that these talented and determined restaurateurs will continue to play a critical role in our economic recovery.”

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Several Los Angeles City Council members today introduced two motions and a resolution in an attempt to address a rise in hate crimes and harassment against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

One motion — which was introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez and Councilmen John Lee, Mitch O’Farrell and Joe Buscaino — calls for the Los Angeles Police Department to report on data of the increased crimes against Asian Americans and on the department’s response to the trend. It also instructs the police department to report on potential resources it could use to reduce instances of hate crimes against Asian Americans and cultural sites and to identify and prosecute suspects responsible for the crimes.

BUENA PARK (CNS) – A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway employee was killed today when crushed between two trains on the tracks at a rail yard near the border of Buena Park and La Mirada.

Firefighters responded about 12:30 a.m. to a stretch of the tracks near Beach Boulevard and Stage Road and found that the two trains had converged, crushing the victim, according to Capt. Greg Barta, public information officer for the Orange County Fire Authority.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A state appeals court panel today rejected a bid for re-sentencing by a man serving a life prison term without the possibility of parole for the 1988 murders of auto racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife, who were gunned down in the driveway of their Bradbury home.

The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court did not err in concluding that Michael Goodwin could not establish eligibility for re-sentencing under a recent change in state law.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Two men from Georgia are set to be arraigned next month in connection with the shooting death of another Georgia resident in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.

Robert Aikins, 22, of Stone Mountain, and Shidreyius McClinton, 20, of Atlanta, are charged with murdering Nazeer Ejua Defares, 24, of Decatur, on Feb. 26.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Black investigator in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, who alleges she’s been the victim of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, will have to shore up some parts of her lawsuit to proceed with all its current allegations, a judge ruled today.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis said she was initially inclined to dismiss some of the claims against the individual defendants in Sgt. Karen Pewitt’s suit, who include former District Attorney Jackie Lacey. However she said that after reconsideration, she will give Pewitt 20 days to file an amended suit and correct any deficiencies.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Lawyers for former Rep. Katie Hill and her ex-husband told a Los Angeles judge today they remain hopeful of settling her allegations of harassment and years of abuse, but they still asked that the groundwork be laid for a possible trial of whether Hill’s stay-away order should be extended.

The attorneys for Hill and Kenneth Heslep said that if the case is tried, it will likely take four to five days. In response, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff ordered both sides to prepare lists of witnesses and exhibits they would use during the trial and submit them a week in advance of April 8, when a trial-setting hearing is scheduled.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles City Council voted today to direct the city to negotiate leases and eventually purchase vacant homes owned by Caltrans in the El Sereno neighborhood as part of the abandoned 710 North Freeway Extension Project.

The motion, which passed with 14 yes votes and one absent, instructed the chief legislative analyst to evaluate funding availability for leasing, community outreach and the purchase of all the properties.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Increased demand for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic is creating opportunities for thieves to profit, making it more important than ever for pet owners to protect their four-legged loved ones, a Claremont-based pet adoption service said today.

“As reports of violent pet theft rise around the nation, it’s important for pet owners to be vigilant,” said Abbie Moore, chief operating officer for “At the same time, we call on online classified sites to up their screening game when accepting posts of pets for sale. Pet owners need powerful allies in this fight to protect their pets.”

SANTA ANA (CNS) – The Orange County Violent Gang Task Force was serving a number of federal and state warrants today as part of an investigation targeting an Orange County-based street gang, according to the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.

“The Orange County Violent Gang Task Force and its partners are executing twelve federal search warrants this morning, as well as one federal arrest warrant, one state arrest warrant and probation compliance checks, as part of an investigation targeting an Orange County-based street gang,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a statement.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The public will have a chance to say farewell to Rev. Frederick K.C. Price beginning tomorrow after the renowned L.A. pastor’s death last month at the age of 89.

A public closed-casket viewing is scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Crenshaw Christian Center, 7901 S. Vermont Ave., from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days — with strict adherence to all COVID-19 safety protocols enforced, church officials said.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said today it will temporarily suspend rail service on the A Line (Blue) between the Del Amo and Pacific Avenue stations from 4 a.m. Saturday, March 6, through the end of service on Sunday, March 7, to perform routine system maintenance.

Metro will provide free bus shuttle service between the following rail stations that will be out of service: Del Amo, Wardlow, Willow, Pacific Coast Highway, Anaheim Street, 5th Street, 1st Street, Downtown Long Beach and Pacific Avenue.

MONROVIA (CNS) – Monrovia police today sought public help to find a man who went missing who needs his medication for an undisclosed medical condition.

Police circulated a photo of Pai “Sunny” Huang, 47, who was last seen in the Monrovia area on Feb. 16.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County rose today for the 22nd consecutive day and 42nd time in 43 days, increasing nine-tenths of a cent to $3.764, its highest amount since Dec. 6, 2019.

The average price has increased 41.6 cents in the past 43 days, including seven-tenths of a cent on Tuesday, according to figures from the AAA and Oil Price Information Service. It is 8.3 cents more than one week ago, 27.7 cents higher than one month ago and 21.9 cents greater than one year ago.

Copyright 2021 City News Service, Inc.

CNS-03-03-2021 19:30