Residents File Lawsuits Against Exide Executives

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Several company executives and the manager of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon were named Monday in two separate lawsuits brought by dozens of residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

An Exide representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuits filed against James Bloch, Exide’s CEO; Phillip Damaska, the company’s CFO; Ed Mopas, the firm’s environmental manager; John Hogarth, the plant manager; and R. Paul Hirt Jr., Exide’s president.

The allegations include negligence, trespassing and absolute liability for ultra hazardous activity.

One lawsuit was filed by adult plaintiffs and the other on behalf of numerous children. In each case, the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

One of the plaintiff’s four attorneys, Robert Mandell, said children and others living near the facility were “unnecessarily” exposed to “dangerously high levels of toxics,” and many of them have illnesses linked to the compounds.

Attorney Robert Kent told EGP they expect to file two or three more cases this week. He estimates the five or so cases will represent around 300 clients.

Kent said they opted against filing the cases as a class-action because they wanted to be able to screen clients to represent those who were damaged, who had suffered birth defects, asthma, cancer, and other illnesses.

Clients were broken up into three categories, adults, minors, and wrongful deaths, he said.

“We couldn’t take on a number that we wouldn’t be able to handle,” he said, adding the courts could ultimately decide to combine all the cases.

All their clients live in areas surrounding Vernon, where Exide is located, including Boyle Heights, Huntington Park, East Los Angeles, Bell, Bell Gardens and Cudahy, Kent told EGP.

“Their quality of life has been compromised” and “we want to get them fairly compensated for their illnesses and death in some cases.

The lawsuits are the latest salvo against Exide, which has included large penalties and orders to upgrade its air pollution systems to meet new more rigorous standards, as well orders to set aside millions of dollars to clean up homes where unsafe levels of lead have been found and pose a danger to the residents.

According to Kent, the lawsuits will allow them to determine what each officer knew and how involved they were in the decisions. “We believe they knew what they were doing,” he said.

He said Exide officials for years thought they could “keep the plant open not put money into cleaning up” and “they got away with it for years.”

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

As of press time Exide has not released a comment regarding the lawsuit.

Students Learn More Than Just An Instrument

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The sounds of a violin being fiddled, xylophone keys rhythmically tapped and the “ding” of the triangle filled the air as proud, smiling parents jockeyed for position, hoping to capture their child’s shining moment on camera.

It was the eve of winter break and students in Suva Elementary’s three third grade classes were performing in the school’s first winter concert, some for the first time in front of an audience.

It was the type of scene that plays out in auditoriums, classrooms and churches everywhere during the holiday season, only at Suva, the stakes are higher than just hitting the right note on stage, according to music teacher Sheryl Lewis-Gordon, who organized the concert.

Over 90 third graders from Suva Elementary performed at the Bell Gardens school during a winter concert Dec. 18. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Over 90 third graders from Suva Elementary performed at the Bell Gardens school during a winter concert Dec. 18. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

She said many of the 90 students in her third grade orchestra have also tuned-up their academic performance since standardized music instruction was added to their curriculum.

“Music has helped them in their studies,” said Lewis-Gordon. “Some of these students had issues with reading or trouble learning,” but are now making great strides, she said.

One of those making progress is eight-year-old Patrick, who according to Lewis-Gordon has increased his reading level by 50 words a minute.

Patrick’s father Rafael Arriaga says his son was so excited about learning an instrument at school, he convinced him to volunteer and play his clarinet with the class.

“Music motivates them” and “his test scores indicate that music made an impact,” said Arriaga in Spanish.

“Music helps me learn,” echoed young guitarist Richard Valdivia.

Lewis-Gordon credits the new Common Core standards implemented in the Montebello Unified School District last year, for the gains. The standards include teaching music in third grade, specifically music rhythm, patterns and performance skills.

“There are patterns in reading and math just like there is in music,” she explained.

As students focus on rhythm patterns, harmony and other music qualities, their listening skills improve, added Lewis-Gordon. Reading, writing and performing as they did last Thursday helps them improve their memory, she said.

“Music sends messages to the brain and helps students focus on memory techniques as they learn and remember patterns needed to understand mathematics,” said Lewis-Gordon, who has been teaching at Suva for 30 years.

Third graders from Suva Elementary perform during their first winter concert Dec. 18.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Third graders from Suva Elementary perform during their first winter concert Dec. 18.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Raquel Reyes, assistant director of concerts, says music is important for all students, especially at Suva in Bell Gardens, a city that is home to a large immigrant population.

Music allows “many second language learners to communicate in a non-threatening environment” she said. “Music also increases self-esteem for those students that are not successful academically.”

Lewis-Gordon told EGP she has had students who started-off not speaking much English, yet have shined in her classroom and are now nearly fluent.

One of those who has shined is Jasmine Rangel-Garcia, who has been promoted to “music helper.” The eight-year-old helps her fellow classmates learn how to hold an instrument properly.

“It’s fun teaching others,” said Jasmine, not fully understanding the importance of what she’s learning, but proud she can help others.

The three classes began practicing for the hour-long concert performance in October. Since then, all of her students are turning in their homework on time and putting extra effort into class, according to Lewis-Gordon. She said it’s a change she’s seen repeated over and over again since musical instruments arrived in her classrooms in 2006. The difference now is the standards have formalized the connection between music and academic learning, giving it more weight in the overall curriculum.

“I hope that learning how to play an instrument will open the door for my students in their life’s endeavors, as they develop an appreciation for the arts in the years to follow,” said Lewis-Gordon, who believes music is in and of itself valuable. She proudly notes that some of her former students have gone on to play in their intermediate and high school bands.

“They may only start playing in the third grade, but maybe it lights the fuse for a magical, musical journey,” adds her husband Mark Gordon, who helps set up audio equipment and gives pep talks to the children.

To Reyes, the value of music instruction cannot be understated.

“Music education uncovers the hidden talents in our students, maybe becoming a reason for these students to graduate high school.”

Cheer and Charity Ring In the Holiday

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

All across the county, enthusiastic volunteers made children the stars of this holiday season.

It may not rain in L.A., but it does sometimes snow!

A young boy gets ready for his gift from Santa during Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Winter Wonderland at MacArthur Park. 20 tons of snow was brought into the park for hundreds of inner-city school children — from Sycamore Grove’s Latona Elementary, Highland Park’s Monte Vista Elementary, Westlake MacArthur Park and Charles White Elementary School—to play in.

Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo

Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo

(Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo)

(Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo)

Juliette Jenkins takes her first photo with Santa at the last event organized by The Hook Up in Montebello. More than 75 children had the chance to take a picture with Santa and receive a bag full of toys.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Victims of Crime Receive Gifts For The Holidays

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey joined crime victims at a downtown Target store Monday to hand out gift cards and help brighten their holidays.

“The holidays can be a difficult time for victims of crime,” Lacey said. “This annual tradition allows us to bring hope and joy to these deserving families.”

Target donated gift cards for more than 30 children and adults victimized by crime. Participating families were nominated by members of the District Attorney’s staff.

The shopping event is part of a larger holiday giving drive, which benefits more than 200 families affected by violent crimes. Each year, the D.A.’s office raises about $25,000 for the effort.

Deadline for Ronald McDonald Scholarships Approaching

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California is accepting applications through Jan. 20 for $338,000 in college scholarships.

Interested students should visit https://aim.applyists.net/RMHC to apply.

“The cost of a college education shouldn’t be a barrier for students who are truly driven to achieve their dreams,’’ said Vince Bryson, chief executive of RMHC of Southern California. “Since 1990, we have committed millions to helping Southland students take advantage of all the opportunities that a higher education affords.”

To be eligible for the scholarships, applicants must be high school seniors eligible to attend a two- or four-year postsecondary school. Applicants must be younger than 21 years of age, have a minimum 2.7 grade point average and live in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino or Ventura county.

RMHC will award 109 scholarships through its four programs.

Driver Charged With DUI in Alhambra Crash That Injured More Than a Dozen

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Criminal charges were filed last week against a Los Angeles man who allegedly was drunk when he rear-ended a minivan, knocking it into a crowd of people looking at Christmas lights in Alhambra.

Arraignment for Ismael Soto, 28, is now scheduled for Jan. 13 in an Alhambra courtroom on one felony count each of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury within 10 years of two other offenses and driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content causing injury within 10 years of two other offenses; along with one misdemeanor count each of driving on a suspended license and driving with a vehicle not equipped with a required ignition interlock device.

Alhambra police said Soto drove his pickup truck north on Fremont Avenue about 8:40 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14 crossed over the double yellow line and struck two occupied minivans parked on the south side of the street. One of the minivans went over the curb and into the driveway of a home, striking the pedestrians.

Police said 15 people were injured, including Soto.

‘Paying It Forward’ at Montebello Resource Center’s Final Hoorah

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Thirty-six-year-old Monica Regalado used to be homeless. Her voice shakes when she recalls that time and how a Montebello nonprofit resource center helped her get the services she needed, and off the street.

Last Friday, Regalado and other former clients of The Hook Up were back at the center to pay it forward, preparing meals and delivering toys to families in need.

“She doesn’t ask for anything in return,” said Regalado, referring to one of the nonprofits’ founders, Esperanza Ortega. “It inspires me to give back,” she said while passing out candy canes to the children.

The Hook Up founder Esperanza Ortega, left, hands a tote full of toys to a young girl at the center’s last event in Montebello. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Hook Up founder Esperanza Ortega, left, hands a tote full of toys to a young girl at the center’s last event in Montebello. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

It was a bittersweet moment for the center, which has been providing services to veterans, the homeless and low-income residents of Montebello for nearly three years, but will close its doors this week in an effort to cut its operating costs.

The Hook Up will move from its current location on Whittier Boulevard to El Monte after the first of the year, according to Ortega and her husband William Valenzuela. The couple started the center after discovering during the 2012 manifestation of the Occupy Movement on local college campuses that many of the students participating in the demonstration were homeless, and had joined the movement’s tent city to get shelter, food, and other types of help.

The couple’s goal was to direct students to available assistance and to give them a place where they would have access to computers and other resources. The program grew quickly and was soon attracting area veterans also needing help getting back on their feet.

The nonprofit center runs on donations and the generosity of its founders Ortega and Valenzuela.

“It got too expensive” to stay in Montebello, Ortega explained. “Our clientele grew” and so did our costs, she said.

While many people said they were sad the center would be moving out of Montebello, the news did not dampen the cheerful mood during the center’s final event in the city last Friday. The “Here Comes Santa” event included dozens of children taking pictures with Santa, singing jingle bells, and enjoying a warm and delicious meal put together by The Hook Up and local sponsors. Over 75 children received a tote bag full of gifts.

“You have to give back,” Ortega said, pleased by the number of former clients who turned up to help. She said the biggest gift for her is seeing the smiles on the faces of the children as she hands them their gift. “… that’s my thank you,” she said.

Teresa Martinez, 44, lives at The Hook Up’s “Almost Home Transitional Housing” for female veterans in West Covina. The Navy and California National Guard Reserve veteran was not about to let a broken foot keep her from helping out, and last Friday she could be found passing out plates of food to the center’s “adopted” families.

“Seeing the children’s faces light up when they see the presents they otherwise wouldn’t get” is such a good feeling Martinez said. It’s why she volunteers, she told EGP.

Army Veteran Elizabeth Saucedo is a longtime volunteer at The Hook Up. She was in charge of putting together gift bags for the children at the event.

“Every one should volunteer,” said Saucedo without hesitation. That’s especially true when it comes to veterans, she emphasized.

Most people don’t realize how may veterans need help, or that despite their own difficult situations they will still volunteer to help others, she said.

“Veterans are willing to give up their life for their country,” she said. “People should [at least] be willing to give up a couple of hours of their time to volunteer” to help someone in need.

At The Hook Up center you can get help putting together a resume, or food at the weekly food distributions. The center also provides clothes and provides access to computers, all at no charge.

Marine veteran John Yanez, 63, said he walked into the center two and a half years ago and decided to volunteer.

“I liked what they did for veterans,” he said matter-of-factly.

He was put in charge of one of the center’s weekly food bank distributions, which he said he did to help out his community.

Ortega told EGP the center hopes to one day find a small, affordable office in Montebello where they could continue to assist their Montebello clients.

In the meantime, “We may be moving, but we’ll still take care of you,” she told the people at the charity event.

 

The Hook Up’s new office will be located at 11229 E. Valley Blvd. Suite 204-206 El Monte, 91731. For more information, call (323) 944-1001.

 

Bell Gardens Mayor’s Autopsy Released

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Autopsy results on the body of Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo indicate he was fatally shot three times in the upper chest, an attorney for his family said Friday.

Crespo, 45, was shot to death by his wife, Lyvette Crespo, at his home on Sept. 30, according to the sheriff’s department. Deputies said Crespo and his wife were arguing, and their 19-year-old son intervened, leading to a struggle between the mayor and his son that ended when Lyvette Crespo opened fire.

Lyvette Crespo was not arrested. Her attorney has contended that she was a long-time victim of domestic violence and shot Daniel Crespo in defense of herself and her son.

EGP photo archive

EGP photo archive

At a news conference, William Crespo – the late mayor’s brother – said the autopsy report does not support the notion that Crespo’s wife shot him in self-defense. He also said he was disappointed that Lyvette Crespo has not been arrested or charged.

“It’s sad,” he said. “It’s wrong because it is just showing that you know you can get away with murder. Killing your husband is wrong. There was a lot of other ways, she could have called 911.”

William Crespo has said that Lyvette was trained with firearms.

His attorney, James Devitt, said he received a copy of the autopsy report about a week ago, and he claims it does not support Lyvette’s claim of self-defense. He said he is hopeful that District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whose office is reviewing the case, will charge Lyvette Crespo.

Lacey has “assigned a very tough prosecutor to this case and I have a feeling we’re going to have an indictment or an arrest by Christmas, is my hope,” Devitt said.

The coroner’s case report revealed details about the shooting investigation, including a contention by Crespo’s daughter that her father had been verbally and physically abusive to his wife over a period of 20 years, that the abuse had become more physical in the two years before the shooting and that on the night of her father’s death, her parents had been arguing over Crespo’s infidelity.

The daughter also told investigators Crespo had been known to drag his wife by her hair to force her to sleep in the same bedroom with him, though he never injured her seriously enough to require medical attention and no prior incidents of domestic violence had been reported to authorities.

“Reportedly, the decedent had threatened to kill her and the children if she attempted to report the abuse,’’ according to the coroner’s report, which also indicated that the daughter alleged Crespo’s mistress had begun making annoying phone calls to Lyvette Crespo at the family’s home.

Crespo owned handguns and had kept them locked in the home until recent years, when he began leaving them unlocked, his daughter told detectives.

A 9 mm handgun and three expended cartridges were recovered at the shooting scene.

 

MAOF Wins ‘Innovation’ Grant

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Mexican American Opportunities Foundation, MAOF, is the recipient of a competitive national grant to encourage nonprofit groups to move people and communities forward in new and innovative ways.

The $50,000 grant from NBC4 Southern California and the NBCUniversal Foundation, will be used to help extend the reach of MAOF’s “Asset Building” financial literacy program to 2,300 low- to moderate-income families, according to MAOF’s CEO, Martin Castro.

MAOF’s Asset Building program teaches low-income families the basics about finances and the steps to creating financial stability.

MAOF

MAOF

“The grant will go a long way in empowering our Latino community to become self-sufficient and achieve the American Dream,” said Castro in a statement.

NBCUniversal’s 21st Century Solutions Grant Challenge Awards, 30 grants totaling $1.2 million, are being awarded in 10 of the markets served by the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, including Los Angeles where three grants, totaling $200,000 are being awarded.

The two other Southern California region winners are:

Food Forward, which is receiving $50,000 for its “Farmers Market Recovery Program” that collects unsold produce from farmers markets and donates the food to hunger-relief charities; and the Family Service Association, receiving $100,000 for its “MOBILE FRESH” program that operates a health food grocery store on-wheels in rural communities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

“The 21st Century Solutions grant initiative is another way our station – in partnership with the NBCUniversal Foundation – recognizes the community for its innovative programs and meaningful impact in neighborhoods throughout Southern California,” said Steve Carlston, president and general manager, NBC4.

Rogue Tow Truck Operators Preying on Car Owners

December 25, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

A warning has been issued about predatory tow truck drivers who trick accident victims into signing away their damaged cars, then holding their vehicles until excessively high fees are paid.

The Los Angeles Police Commission and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit group that investigates insurance fraud, said some towing companies use police scanners to find out where wrecks are, then show up and pressure people into turning over their vehicle and    signing a release. The companies then charge high fees to get their cars back.

“These bandit tow truck drivers are breaking the law by responding without being requested,” said police Lt. Chris Waters of the Police Commission’s Investigation Division.

Tow truck drivers are not supposed to show up at accidents without being requested and are required to release vehicles to their owners.

NICB Special Agent Doreen Sanchez said the tow truck drivers sometimes say they will take the car to a place “of the owner’s choice, but they then take it to an undisclosed body shop that is paying them a kickback.”

The companies charge from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars Sanchez said.

Problems with towing companies should be reported by calling (323) 680-4TOW. If insurance fraud is suspected, the NICB hotline can be reached at 1-800-TEL-NICB.

NCIB is funded by insurance companies to investigate insurance fraud.

The tow truck scams often involve drivers trying to charge insurance companies for the towing and storage fees.

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