A Bell Gardens man accused in the shooting deaths of two brothers at a county park in East Los Angeles last November pleaded not guilty last week to murder charges.
Pedro Vasquez, 23, was charged April 6 with the Nov. 22, 2015, killings of Antonio Aguilar, 33, and Juan Aguilar, 28, at Ruben Salazar Park.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, but prosecutors have yet to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.
Vasquez allegedly approached the two men at the park and opened fire on them, with both suffering multiple gunshot wounds.
Juan Aguilar had once dated Vasquez’s sister, according to authorities, who have not disclosed a motive for the killings.
Vasquez has remained jailed since his April 4 arrest. He is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Aug. 11, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.
The setting was casual, from the coffee and Mexican bread on the table, to the prayer recited in both English and Spanish to get the meeting started.
The men and women, most of them elderly, Latino and low-income, had gathered July 7 at the Ruben Salazar Park Senior Center in East Los Angeles to share their life experiences. It was the first official meeting of the “Angels Support Group,” a volunteer effort to help seniors dealing with depression, loneliness and isolation. It’s a form of group therapy among friends, is how one person described the meeting.
Lea este artículo en Español: Personas Mayores del Este de Los Ángeles Luchan Contra la Depresión y la Soledad
Shy at first, one by one the participants, speaking mostly in Spanish, shared personal stories of pain.
Participants were told they could talk about anything and for many that meant digging into long time feelings of grief. For others, it was a chance to help someone by sharing ways to cope and move past the pain.
“My daughter died 11 years ago and I still cry over her death,” said Rosa Perez.
For years, I cried over my mother’s death, then one day she appeared to me in a dream and told me not to suffer anymore, shared Manuela Tlatenchi. “Tears don’t allow the dead to rest in peace,” she reflected.
“I felt depressed until I started volunteering and giving back to my community,” said Marcelo Vazquez, a volunteer instructor at the park.
Chris Mojica just celebrated his 85th birthday. He’s a long time senior center volunteer and co-leader of the Angels Support Group and says he personally knows of at least 20 seniors who died at home alone.
“They are elders who have family, but at the same time they [are all alone] because they don’t visit each other,” he said. The seniors “feel really sad and they stay home waiting to die,” he lamented.
According to the California Department of Aging (CDA), California has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. Los Angeles County’s elder population is nearly 1,190,000, according to the CDA. Of those, about 718,000 are minorities and 188,000 live alone.
By 2020, it’s estimated that 14% of the country’s seniors (60 and older) will live in California.
Seeking mental health services or grief counseling is rare for elderly Latinos.
The idea for the senior support group came from talking to so many older people at the center who seemed depressed or were very sick, said Mojica.
Depression is a problem that needs to be addressed with love and compassion, adds Ray Guerrero, another long time volunteer and group co-leader. “Laughing out loud is great therapy,” he pointed out.
The group plans to meet Thursday mornings at Salazar Park. About 20 people attended the first gathering last week. As part of the “group therapy,” seniors are encouraged to get out more and take part in recreational activities with other members. It doesn’t matter if they choose to take a knitting class, work in one of the gardens outside the senior center, learn to play guitar or just socialize with their fellow elders, because the goal is just to keep the seniors busy.
An important component of the new group is keeping track of one another when away from the center. They’ve formed a phone tree of sorts, and members are encouraged to call other members regularly to see how they are doing. The group will also visit or send cards to seniors who wind up in the hospital or a convalescent home.
A $5 monthly donation—not required but suggested—will help pay for outings to museums, the zoo and the movies.
Every month the group will celebrate the birthdays taking place that month, said Mojica, adding that they rely on volunteers and donations to make things happen.
As with many new groups, the Angels Support Group must still overcome a number of management issues, such as keeping track of donations and planning field trips.
Our plans are big, but the need is bigger than what we can do on our own, said 71-year-old Guerrero. “We have the ideas, but we don’t have the strength” or know how to carry some of the ideas through, Guerrero said. “We need help from [younger] volunteers and we need donations from people and from our (elected) representatives,” he added.
Participants at the first Angels Support Group meeting said they are excited about the new venture and hope more people will start attending.
“Not everybody feels comfortable with the group and they don’t [yet] feel the need to be part of it,” explained Guerrero. “But it is always good to laugh and talk to other people because we tend to feel alone sometimes,” he noted.
“I could be fishing now, I could be doing something else, but I’d rather be here and help the group,” said Guerrero with a smile. “I like this center.”
A man was shot to death during a discussion with two men in East Los Angeles, authorities said Tuesday.
The shooting was reported about 10 p.m. Monday at 664 South Ford Blvd., said Deputy Lisa Jansen of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. Deputies who responded to the shooting call found the victim suffering from a gunshot wound to the upper torso, she said.
Homicide detectives learned “two male suspects came to the residence and knocked on the front door,’’ Jansen said. “The victim came to the door and began talking to both suspects through the closed metal security screen door.
During the conversation, one of the unknown suspects fired multiple shots towards the victim, striking him in the upper torso.’’
The suspects fled on foot, headed north, she said, and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Anyone with information about the shooting was asked to call sheriff’s homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or http://lacrimestoppers.org.
The Griffith Middle School community will begin two days of voting today on a proposal to change the school’s name, an initiative that has sparked passions on both side of the issue.
Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Monica Garcia represents the area and says the school district has “heard loud and clear how much people care” and “how much history can be tied up in a name.”
The vote comes nearly a year after a group of activists launched a petition to change the David Wark Griffith Middle School name, citing its association with a man who they say is “infamous for directing the 1915 ‘classic’ silent film Birth of A Nation that glorified the Ku Klux Klan and espoused white supremacy.”
The school has held “community conversations” on the proposal, Garcia said Wednesday. “They’ve gone through the process and now they are at the point of a vote,” explaining that students and faculty will vote Thursday and the community on Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Responding to an article published in this newspaper last week about the impending vote, a teacher at the school, who asked to remain anonymous, angrily told EGP that efforts to change the name were “politically motivated” and “disrespected” students who want the name to remain Griffith, without the D.W.
“These are people who don’t care about our school,” he said, claiming they are just pushing their own agenda, Rosalio Munoz, one of the proponents of the name change, supports replacing it with Félix and Rebecca Gutiérrez Middle School in honor of “two former East Los Angeles educators who were part of an early Mexican American generation inspiring girls and boys to make progress through education.”
He said it’s important that the community have schools that honor the history of contributions made by Latinos in education, calling Felix and Rebecca Gutierrez early advocates for giving a voice to Latinos in their education and pioneers in their field.
Garcia said that other names had been thrown out, but did not draw much traction.
Earlier this week, the mother of an eighth grader who will graduate soon, told EGP that her daughter and other students strongly support keeping the Griffith name. “They are proud of all we have accomplished here,” she said in Spanish. She told EGP that she has worked as a school volunteer for three years and feels it’s important to support students like her daughter who are proud of their school and standing up for their rights.
She understands that some people think we need to have schools named after Latinos, but she doesn’t necessarily agree, adding, “no one knows who Felix and Rebecca Gutierrez are, or why they should have a school in their name.”
The woman’s 14-year-old daughter told EGP that she’s in “leadership” in the STEAM Magnet and is completely against changing the name. “What will it mean to our diplomas if the name changes,” she said. “This is where I met my friends, the place that made me who I am and even if they change the name I will always call it Griffith,” she said.
People are connected through this school even after they leave. “In leadership we go out and promote the school, volunteering to teach younger kids how to build robots or do math, under the Griffith name. We have pride in our school and if they change the name all our work will be gone: who is going to know what Griffith is, she said.”
While the mother of three and school volunteer initially agreed to be quoted using her name, she later withdrew permission for her and her daughter, stating she had been advised by the “director” not to because the “school is not about politics,” and that they should not “drop to the level” of those backing the change. Asked if that’s not a contradiction to what she had said earlier about the importance of teaching your children to stand up for what you believe, she agreed in part, but still asked to remain anonymous.
Board Member Garcia said Griffith is not the only school or community that has recognized the “importance of self-determination and rebranding to include the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of our schools, in service, leadership and empowerment.”
Stakeholders — students, faculty, staff and people living in the school’s attendance area — have three options to choose from: no name change, changing the name to Griffith STEAM Magnet, or changing to Felix and Rebecca Gutierrez Middle School.
If a new name is chosen, it will be sent to the school board for final approval.
Update: 11:15am June 3, 2016 Correction from David Wark Griffin to David Wark Griffith on school’s name.
A woman was gravely injured in a hammer attack this morning at an East Los Angeles residence and the suspect was in custody, the sheriff’s department reported
The attack in the 3700 block of Whiteside Street was reported about 2:30 a.m., according to the watch commander at the sheriff’s East L.A. station.
The woman was rushed to a hospital in grave condition, he said. Her attacker was in custody.
The attacker was also transported to a hospital for treatment before booking after some sort of altercation with deputies, according to news reports from the scene.
The watch commander said an investigation was underway and detectives were looking into the case as possible domestic violence. The relationship between the man and woman involved in the hammer attack was not immediately disclosed.
It is unclear whether the incident is related to hammer attacks that occurred in the area back in March when a hammer-wielding man attacked an elderly man without warning. A woman, who was standing in front of her home was also struck with a hammer hours later after the March 25 incident.
FedEx Office and Print Services Inc. and one of its drivers are being by relatives of a man killed when a van crashed into an East Los Angeles building in February.
The estate of Isaac Laureano filed the negligence suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, naming the courier giant and driver Brandon Thomas Groff. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
A FedEx representative did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
Laureano was working on a computer at his desk in an office building near Telegraph Road and McBride Avenue about 4:15 p.m. Feb. 5 when Groff, driving at a high speed and not fully paying attention, “violently smashed into the building and then violently collided with decedent,” according to the lawsuit.
Laureano was pinned against a wall and suffered “internal damages so as to kill him in a horrific manner,” according to the complaint.
FedEx was negligent in its hiring, supervision and retention of Groff, the suit alleges.
An East Los Angeles woman accused in the beating death of her 82-year-old grandmother pleaded not guilty Monday to a murder charge.
Rebecca Surratt, 25, is due back in court on June 15, when a date is expected to be set for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
Surratt lived with her mother and grandmother, Martha Yslas, at home in the 300 block of South Woods Avenue.
On May 6, Surratt allegedly got into an argument with her grandmother and inflicted injuries that led to the victim’s hospitalization and death the following day.
“As far as we can tell, she got upset at her grandma and beat her up,” sheriff’s Detective Theo Baljet told the Los Angeles Times. “She punched her and kicked her and possibly choked her.”
Surratt is being held on $2 million bail and faces up to 26 years to life in prison if convicted as charged.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump and the two contenders for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all made multiple appearances in the Southland over the last few days, rallying up support for their respective campaigns.
Both Clinton and Trump were in Orange County Wednesday, the same day the former secretary of state’s handling of email again came under fire and another Trump rally sparked unrest.
But that issue was far from people’s minds during Clinton’s speech at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 324 in Buena Park, where she lashed out at Republican economic policies, saying “it is a historic fact our economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House.”
“Now look, they (Republicans) do have a point of view — I know and respect they are consistent, consistently wrong, but they are consistent. They believe that if they just keep cutting taxes on the wealthy, it’ll all trickle down. They did it. They took a machete to the tax system. They cut taxes on the wealthy. They took their eyes off the financial markets and the mortgage market, and you know what happened — and California was especially hard hit; 9 million Americans lost their jobs, 5 million homes were lost.”
Clinton said Trump’s economic plan is “by a billionaire for billionaires.”
Californians haven’t seen this level of presidential primary attention in years, especially given Trump’s and Clinton’s large leads in the delegate counts.
Sanders has been campaigning hard across the state and on Monday he told thousands of supporters in Lincoln Heights that his grassroots campaign would carry him to victory in the June 7 California primary election.
“There are more delegates at stake in California, 475, more than any other state in the country, and let me tell you something that many of you also know: We are going to win the state of California,” Sanders said.
Sanders hit heavily on issues of immigration reform, an end to deportations, protecting voting rights and boosting wages.
“In this country, if you work 40 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty,” he said. “That is why I was so proud to work with the workers in the fast food industry who went out on strike from McDonalds and Burger King who stood up and told this nation they cannot make it on the starvation minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They demanded, and I support a $15 an hour minimum wage $15 an hour and the right to form a union.”
On Wednesday, Trump pulled no punches during his afternoon speech at the Anaheim
Convention Center, peppering his speech with attacks on Clinton, using his much-repeated term, “Crooked Hillary.”
“She doesn’t have the temperament to be president,” he said. “She’s got horribly bad judgment, and that was stated by none other than crazy Bernie (Sanders)… “She’s a crooked as they come.”
Trump also commented on signs he spotted in the crowd, including one that read, “Hispanic female veteran.”
“Three great words. That’s so nice, thank you,” he said.
Responding to a group of people with signs that said “Latinos for Trump,” he said, “I love that” and added, “By the way, you’re all here legally.”
“Your jobs aren’t going to be taken away by people who just came from across the border,” Trump said. “… I have great relationships with the Hispanics. We’re going to do very well with the Hispanics because we’re going to create jobs. Jobs is what this country needs.”
“I have thousands of Hispanics who work for me. They are phenomenal people,” he said.
His speech was interrupted briefly early on by a protester in the crowd, and Trump bellowed from the stage, “Get him out.” He added, “Don’t hurt him,” noting that he was “saying that for the cameras.”
Trump has been under fire throughout his campaign for his comments about immigrants from Mexico, calling them criminals and rapists.
In the midst of Wednesday’s campaigning, the State Department’s inspector general issued a highly critical analysis of Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of state. He concluded that she failed to seek legal approval for her use of a private server and that department staff would not have given its blessings because of security risks.
The inspector general’s 83-page report was also critical of several of Clinton’s predecessors.
Sanders held a midday rally Wednesday in Cathedral City in Riverside County, followed by a late-afternoon event at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster.
Wednesday was the third consecutive day Clinton was in Los Angeles or Orange counties. It was the fourth consecutive day for Sanders.
An Eastside grant-making program is reaching out to art-related nonprofit groups seeking grant assistance to fund “new and innovative arts initiatives for furthering the arts in the greater eastern part of Los Angeles County.”
The Eastside Arts Initiative (EAI) Council, in partnership with LA Plaza de Culturas y Artes and the California Community Foundation (CCF), is now accepting applications for the spring competitive grant cycle open through May 16.
Funding cycles take place in the fall and spring. A total of $150,000 will be awarded during the current cycle.
During the fall, EAI grants were awarded to About Productions-Young Theatre Works Chicano Legacy Project; Los Angeles Music and Art School-tuition-free symphony and choirs programs; Los Angeles Theatre Academy-Cri-Cri the Musical; Brown Fist Productions-Eastside Heartbeats; Loyola Marymount University-“Variedades” Olvera Street Project, among others.
For more information on the grant application guidelines or to apply online, visit www.eastsideartsinitative.org or call (213) 542-6243.
The coroner’s office Monday released the name of a man wanted for kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon who was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in an unincorporated section of East Los Angeles after he reportedly came out of a residence and threatened them with a handgun.
He was 33-year-old Angel Montion, according to the coroner’s office. His cause of death was reported as multiple gunshot wounds.
The drama began about 10 a.m. Wednesday, when deputies from the East L.A. station tried to arrest the suspect for a kidnapping and assault attack that took place March 19, near Rowan Avenue and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, according to the sheriff’s department.
Instead Montion ran and barricaded himself inside a residence in the 6400 block of Northside Drive, according to Deputy Lisa Jansen.
Hours later Montion came outside holding a handgun and allegedly threatened sheriff’s personnel on scene. At that time a deputy-involved shooting took place, Jansen continued. The suspect was hit by several rounds in the chest.