News Roundup – Feb. 4, 2009

Here are some of the stories in the Southland on Wednesday...

BIG RIG FIRE BLOCKS OC/SAN BERNARDINO FREEWAY TRANSITION ROAD

A big rig caught fire on the Orange Freeway in San Dimas on Wednesday morning, blocking the connector road to the San Bernardino Freeway. The rig caught fire at about 1:30 a.m. as it traveled on the transition road from the southbound Orange
Freeway to the westbound San Bernardino Freeway. The cab was fully engulfed, but the flames did not spread to the trailer, which was loaded with about 42,000 pounds of television equipment. No injuries were reported, but the connector road between the Orange and San Bernardino freeways was shut down while debris was cleared.

HEAD-ON CRASH KILLS CIVILIAN DRIVER, INJURES FIREFIGHTERS

A head-on crash involving a firetruck and a pickup truck left one civilian dead and two firefighters hospitalized in Riverside County. The crash happened at about 5 a.m. in the intersection of Van Buren Boulevard and Etiwanda Avenue. The impact of the accident trapped the civilian driver, who died at teh scene. The firefighters are based in the Glen Avon office. (NBCLA.com)

RECKLESS, SPEEDING TEEN SUSPECTED OF DUI; 5 HURT IN CRASHES

Five people were seriously hurt when a 17-year-old suspected of driving drunk crashed into seven cars on a quiet residential street in Anaheim. Police say the teen was speeding and making frequent lane changes in a Nissan Maxima Tuesday night when he rear-ended an SUV, which collided head-on with a Toyota. Two of the injured were in critical condition. They were identified as a nurse who was driving home from work in the Toyota and the driver of the SUV pushed into her car.
 
POLANSKI CASE HEARING RESCHEDULED FOR FEB. 17

A hearing for Roman Polanski's bid to have a 31-year-old sex case dismissed has been rescheduled for Feb. 17. The date was announced a day after Polanski's lawyer lost an appeals court bid to disqualify all Los Angeles County Superior Court judges from considering the long dormant case against the fugitive film director.
 
OVERCROWDED PRISONS COULD LEAD TO EARLY RELEASE

A federal judicial panel in San Francisco is hearing closing arguments in a long-running legal battle over crowding in California prisons. At issue are cases stretching back more than two decades that claim overcrowding is the cause of poor medical and mental health treatment. If the panel agrees, it could order the population cut by one-third in California's 33 adult prisons, leading to the early release of some 52,000 inmates.
 
TERRORISM EXPERTS TURN TO SALINAS GANGS

Officials say federal violence and terrorism experts are going to Salinas to help local authorities combat a deep-rooted gang problem. Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue says the city will be working with faculty from the Naval Postgraduate School, which specializes in global and homeland security. The experts will provide analysis and recommendations on how youth can break the cycle of gang involvement.
 
WEATHER SATELLITE LAUNCH SCRUBBED

Wednesday morning's planned launch of a weather satellite from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base was scrubbed because of launch pad technical problems. The Delta Two rocket was expected to blast off at 2:22 a.m., but the launch was postponed because of a problem with the facility's gaseous nitrogen system. NOAA-N Prime is the last in a series of polar-orbiting satellites that have been observing Earth's weather since 1960. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the $564 million mission, did not immediately say when the launch would take place.

ENDANGERED CATALINA ISLAND FOX POPULATION BOOMS

The wild fox population on Santa Catalina Island has grown so large that biologists may seek to have them taken off the federal endangered species list next year. The Catalina Island fox, a subspecies of omnivorous 5-pound foxes unique to the island, topped out at 784 in a recent count. That's up from about 100 foxes on the island a decade ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the animals on the endangered species list in 2004. (NBCLA.com)

SEARCH ON FOR VICTIMS OF BABYSITTER CHARGED WTIH PORN, MOLESTATION
 
San Diego police are searching for victims of a 24-year-old babysitter who authorities say was paid to allow children in his care to be molested by child pornographers. District attorney's office spokesman Paul Levikow says Aaron Zendejas pleaded not guilty to several charges, including procuring a child to engage in a lewd act. Police are asking for the public's help to identify possible victims. Lt. Rick O'Hanlon says a tip led investigators to Zendejas. He says a search of Zendejas' home computer and cell phone turned up several photos of children involved in sex acts. But O'Hanlon says none of the children has been identified and no one has come forward. Zandejas is being held on $500,000 bail. (NBCSanDiego.com)

NATIVE AMERICAN THEMES MAY BE REMOVED FROM CARPINTERIA SCHOOL DISTRICT LOGO
 
It now looks like the Native American head, canoe and arrowhead will be removed from the Carpinteria Unified School District's logo. A student member of the Chumash tribe complained last year that the mascot perpetuates stereotypes and offensive to Native Americans. The district's 15-member Native American Imagery Committee met for the final time Tuesday  night and recommended the change, as well as urging removal of a 10-foot mural of a Native American and a bird. The committee earlier recommended a mural outside the Carpinteria High School gymnasium be altered to remove the scowling warrior head as well as from letterman jackets and the school marquee. The school board will now consider the recommendations.

SALES OF $1 MILLION-PLUS CALIFORNIA HOMES SLUMP
 
Sales of million-dollar homes in California are down. A real estate reporting firm says sales of million-dollar homes in California plunged to the lowest level in five years in 2008 as housing prices slumped and the mortgage market for upscale homes dried up. San Diego-based MDA DataQuick says the number of homes that sold for $1 million or more dipped by 42.5 percent last year from 2007. DataQuick says there were 24,436 sales of $1 million-plus homes, down from 42,506 a year earlier. It was the lowest figure since 20,595 were sold in 2003 and was far below the 54,773 homes sold in 2005. Only 1 in 16 homes sold in the state for $1 million or more, compared to 1 in 9 in 2007.

TRIAL UNDERWAY IN RIVERSIDE CHILD TORTURE CASE

Trial is underway in Riverside for a couple accused of torturing their 11-year-old nephew to death while he was in their care. Raul and Cathy Sarinana, the boy's uncle and aunt, are charged with first-degree murder with a special circumstance of torture in the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Prosecutors say Ricky Morales died on Christmas Day 2005 after being beaten for failing to eat his breakfast. The district attorney's office says his body was found in a master bedroom closet and blood evidence was found throughout the home. Prosecutors believe the child lay dead or dying in the closet while the Sarinanas entertained guests at a holiday dinner. Raul Sarinana's attorney told jurors his client admitted injuring his nephew but didn't mean to kill him.

EX-MAYWOOD COP TO STAND TRIAL FOR 4 SEXUAL ASSAULTS

A former Maywood police officer will stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted four women in 2006 and 2007 while on duty. A Los Angeles judge yesterday ordered Ryan Allen West to trial on 17 felony counts, including rape by threat, assault by a public officer, sexual battery by restraint and burglary. The 29-year-old was charged last May with attacking three women while on duty and in uniform. More charges were added later but it was not clear whether West was on duty during the fourth incident. West was a canine handler for the Maywood Police Department where he worked the graveyard shift. It was not immediately clear whether he resigned or was fired.

SAN FRAN OFFICIALS SEEK TOILET TORCHER

A wave of fires set to portable toilets in San Francisco has investigators puzzled. At least 20 of the construction site toilets have gone up in flames since November, most in the city's Russian Hill neighborhood. Most of the fires have been set at night, although one portable potty burst into flames during a recent afternoon. For contractors, the loss of a portable toilet can amount to several hundred dollars. Plus, there is the unenviable job of cleaning up a disgusting mess, and the threat that a fire could spread. So some have been securing or camouflaging their industrial outhouses in an attempt to foil the attacks. Whoever is responsible, authorities say they are getting very bold.

VILLARAIGOSA PITCHING FOR DC DOLLARS

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in Washington Wednesday, his second trip to the nation's capital in three weeks. He's scheduled to meet with members of the Obama administration and hopes to secure federal funding for transportation and green-technology projects. Villaraigosa is scheduled to meet with Valerie Jarrett, a long-time friend and senior adviser to President Barack Obama. The mayor will also meet with Intergovernmental Affairs Director Cecilia Munoz and National Economic Council Deputy Director Jason Furman. Villaraigosa is scheduled to return to Los Angeles on Thursday.

POLICE ADVISE "COMMON SENSE" AFTER SERIES OF ROBBERIES IN SILVER LAKE

A Los Angeles Police Department captain says a series of about 10 robberies in the Silver Lake area were  not hate crimes targeting gays, but were instead "opportunistic" in nature and probably committed by people from out of the area "looking to make a quick buck." Captain Lance Smith said the LAPD's Northeast Division will increase the number of patrol vehicles, but he also said people should use "common sense," stay in well-lit areas and not walk alone.   (NBCLA.com)
  
FELONY CHARGES IN SAN FERNANDO VALLEY RACE-BASED HATE CRIMES
  
Felony charges, including hate crime allegations, have been filed against four San Fernando Valley men accused of committing race-driven crimes. Samuel Apatiga, Erik Castaneda and George Navarro were accused of threatening a barbershop owner and his patrons  on Friday. All the victims were black. The three suspects and a man named Andy Moran are also accused of threatening the lives of a black man and his girlfriend.
  
ONE MORE SUNNY DAY

It will be mostly sunny on Wednesday. Highs will be in the lower 70s in the Antelope Valley, the mid 70s in the Santa Clarita valley and at lower elevations in the mountains of LA County, and the low 80s pretty much everywhere else in the Greater Los Angeles area. Enjoy this fine weather because rain and sharply lower temperatures are expected from Thursday through Saturday. Air quality Wednesday will be in the good range.

HIT AND RUN SENTENCE

 A 36-year old man who pleaded no contest to a March 1992, hit-and-run that killed a couple crossing a San Pedro street has been sentenced to 365 days in jail and five years formal probation. The judge suspended a six-year prison term that Cristian Lopez Herrera will not have to serve if he complies with the terms of his probation. Herrera's attorney said his client was in the country illegally and expected to deported to Mexico when he finishes his jail term.

MAY DAY PAYOUT

Demonstrators who sued the city in the wake of a May Day melee in MacArthur Park, in which Los Angeles police fired about 12 dozen rubber bullets into the crowd, will receive $12.85 million under a settlement approved today by the City Council.
The multimillion-dollar payout comes one week after the council approved a $20.5 million settlement for four police officers who were prosecuted during the corruption probe of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division, and later had their convictions overturned. (NBCLA.com)

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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