Highland Park ‘Gang’ Shooting Claims Life

November 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities Monday identified a man who was shot and killed while sitting in his parked truck in the Highland Park area.

Pete Cordero, 35, was found dead in the driver’s seat of his white Toyota Tundra about 2 a.m. Sunday in the 5000 block of Raphael Street, said Los Angeles police Officer Rosario Herrera of the Media Relations Section.

He had been shot multiple times in an apparent gang-related attack, police said.

Anyone with information on the crime was urged to call detectives at (323) 344-5731, or (877) LAPD-247.


Academia Avance Students Thankful for Simple Things

November 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The average student is often unaffected by events that go on around the world.

High school seniors in particular are more worried about getting their college applications processed in time or their demanding workload than what’s happening outside their immediate circle.

It’s no different for students at Academia Avance, a small charter school located in a church basement in Highland Park with about 500 middle and high school students.

Despite growing concern around the world over tragedies that have happened this year, including the recent terrorist attack in Paris France, many students are more concerned with their everyday routine, family, and school.

Academia Avance is not only a school but a community supporting students that want a future for themselves. Despite its small size and unusual location, the school offers a variety of opportunities for students to take part in, like an internship program for seniors who have passed the A-G requirements and trips to Los Angeles area colleges so students can see what their options are so they won’t just stick to one small opportunity.

Students say they feel welcomed when walking in the halls to class because they know that one day they will get to wear their cap and gown before heading to a four-year college.

Many of Academia Avance’s students struggle everyday because they lack resources and face financial difficulties.

Seniors in the Class of 2016 especially feel the pinch of higher expenses thanks to all the money required for their senior activities.

Last week, EGP asked some Academia Avance students to take a moment to reflect on what they will be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

It seems most worries will be forgotten for the day as the students spend time with their families and loved ones. From the responses, it appears the senior class is able to look past the stresses from around the world and are instead thankful for the simple things often taken for granted, families and friends or just the excitement of long-awaited videogame coming out.

Here’s what some Advance Academia seniors and the school’s principal had to say:

Cindy Baez MB MG_2277

“I’m thankful for my health and having great friends that support me.”  Senior Cindy Baez

Principal Angelica Gil MB IMG_2294

“I’m thankful for being able to spend time with family after my father passed away. I’m happy that I get to celebrate the memory of my father with the rest of my family.”  Principal Angelica Gil

Rodolfo Paz (rt) Cesar Birrueta (lt)IMAG0612 Gisela

“ I am thankful for my friends, health, that I get an opportunity to be in school, and that my family supports me through everything.” Senior Rodolfo Paz

“I am thankful for Fallout 4 (video game) because it is a wonderful game!”  Senior Cesar Birrueta

Valeria Salinas MB IMG_2292

“I’m thankful for having great friends and family who are supportive, and I’m thankful for having a house and good health.”  Senior Valeria Salinas

Luis Marquez MB MG_2293

“I’m thankful for having a good life with a great family that fill my life with happiness.” Senior Luis Marquez

Eric Salazar GJ IMAG0614

“ I am thankful for my family, friends, and video games!” Senior Eric Salazar

Martin Baeza and Gisela Jimenez are seniors at Academia Avance High School in Highland Park. The students are interning at Eastern Group Publications as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”


Family of Hit-and-Run Victim Sues City

November 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Family members of a grandmother who passed her citizenship exam not long before being killed last year in a hit-run collision in Highland Park are suing the city and Los Angeles County, alleging the location was a “trap for pedestrians.”

The lawsuit filed Nov. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court stems from the Sept. 14, 2014 death of 57-year-old Gloria Esperanza Ortiz, who was struck by a car while crossing North Avenue 50 at San Marco Place.

The plaintiffs are Genesis Jazlene Rodriguez Cortez, who witnessed her grandmother’s death, and three of the decedent’s daughters, Yesenia Ortiz, Lissette Arreola and Karini Stephani Valenzuela.

The allegations include wrongful death, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and that a dangerous condition of public property occurred. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the case Monday.

Ortiz, who had been recently sworn in as a U.S. citizen, was pronounced dead at the scene of the collision. The lawsuit states that the crossing was a “trap for pedestrians” because those traversing the intersection were lulled “into a false sense of security because of the existence of a vaguely visible crosswalk.”

The city and county were obligated to reduce the danger by putting in a stop sign or repainting the crosswalk, according to the complaint.

The location is in a highly populated area close to an elementary school, but the city and county “failed to make the public roadway safe for pedestrians and residents alike,” the lawsuit alleges.


The ‘Good Neighbor’ Role In Gentrification

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Just a few blocks from a major commercial corridor in Highland Park where storefronts have changed and property values have increased, east and northeast Los Angeles area residents gathered Saturday for a panel discussion on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Within minutes it was clear that for many gentrification and housing affordability are a big part of the equation.

The meeting was held at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, a site that has withstood the many changes going on around the nearly century old synagogue.

“Renters are getting evicted because the cost of housing is very high, meaning renters get priced out of their homes in neighborhoods that are becoming attractive, like Highland Park, Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights,” said moderator Helen Leung, co-executive director of the nonprofit LA-Más.

“The term gentrification is very loaded but I’m hoping we can discuss how we can minimize displacement,” she said, attempting to frame Saturday’s dialogue.

Panel speakers included Los Angeles Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer, Elena Popp, a Lincoln Heights resident and Executive Director of the Eviction Defense Network, and Shmuel Gonzalez, a community activists and historian from Boyle Heights.

According to Popp, when asked what it means to be a good neighbor her first reaction is to describe someone who is friendly and doesn’t have loud parties. But as “la abogada” (the lawyer), she knows it means helping your neighbor stay in the neighborhood.

700,000 tenants are evicted every year, Popp emphasized.

“We need to develop more affordable housing and make sure the number of [market rate] developers are restricted,” she said, citing the Wyvernwood Garden housing project in Boyle Heights as an example where a development could force longtime neighbors from their homes.

A panel Nov. 14 at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock discuss tenant displacement.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A panel Nov. 14 at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock discuss tenant displacement. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

For renter’s rights and affordable housing advocates, Wyvernwood has become synonymous with eastside gentrification. Plans to demolish and replace the 1,187 World War II era apartments to make room for a proposed mixed-use development project has led to mixed emotions in the community.

Many activists claim gentrification is just another word for racism because it displaces mostly low-income Latino families.

“We shouldn’t pretend there isn’t a significant amount of profit on the backs of the working class families being displaced,” said Zimmer. “It’s up to us affected and not affected to raise enough attention for this to be addressed,” he said, prompting applause from the 50 or so people in the audience.

In general, the panel agreed that both low income and market rate housing are needed to preserve a community’s viability and attractiveness.

“We need to have that option so people can get out of low-income housing,” said Gonzalez, referring to higher earning residents who want to stay in the neighborhood but want better housing options and amenities.

Zimmer said developers visit him throughout the year hoping to entice his support for a local housing project with promises of developer fees for a particular school. In his view, the fees are just “used to hush a particular neighborhood” so he’s inclined to deny giving his support.

Annabella Mazariegos of Boyle Heights says longtime community activist like her cannot be silenced.

“A positive change in property values and new businesses should not mean a change in the people who live there,” she said.

So, if that’s the case, then how does a community respect those individuals who have lived in the neighborhood for 50 years as well as those who moved in 50 days ago, Leung asked the panelists.

Citing from personal experience, Zimmer said while he felt blessed when welcomed into the Elysian Valley community he found it very important to check his “privilege and entitlement.”

“When you move into a neighborhood that doesn’t give you the right to take over a council or organizations,” the school board president said. “Buying a home doesn’t entitle you to control.”

It’s something he has witnessed firsthand at LAUSD schools, where some individuals or groups push their personal agendas or interests.

“When a parent advisory group is suggesting school funds be used for a garden and not an intervention program I’m going to ask who is on the council,” he elaborated.

Gonzalez pointed out that Eastside communities like Boyle Heights are already dense, causing parking issues and other problems that cause tension among neighbors.

“A lot of people don’t want dense housing because they are afraid of the demographics change,” he said. “Let’s be honest it’s because that means non-Latinos are moving in.”

Gonzalez said it’s a form of racism taking place on the Eastside and pointed to a 2014-firebombing in the Ramona Gardens housing project that many people believe was a hate crime. The firebombing targeted three black families and one Latino family in the public housing complex, where the vast majority of residents are Latino.

Landlord, Cecilia Dominguez, 62, of Elysian Valley, says the issue is complex. She told EGP she understands the dilemma of not wanting to displace a family, which reflects the key culture of a community, but as businesswoman she also has to do what she needs to stay afloat, and that could be to raise rents.

According to Dominquez, the properties she purchased decades ago have gone up in value, but so have her property taxes to reflect new higher property value assessments.

“I don’t want to [raise rents] but my property taxes are going up so I know I will eventually have to,” she said.

While Dominguez sees the discussion as a good start to framing and addressing the issue of renter displacement, she was disappointed no real solutions were reached.

She said she hears over and over that a change in demographics [to higher income] in the community will translate into better streets, betters school and better options.

“But for whom?” she asks. “The people who lived there for years and were displaced won’t see those changes.”


Arraignment Postponed for Bus Stabbing Suspect

November 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Arraignment was postponed today for a Glendale man charged with murder in the stabbing death of a passenger aboard a Metro bus in Highland Park.

Allan Jay Milton, 43, of Glendale is accused in the stabbing death of Phillip Melendez of Los Angeles. His arraignment was reset for Nov. 30.

Milton, who’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail, allegedly stabbed Melendez Monday after getting into an argument with him. He allegedly fled when the bus stopped at North Figueroa and Meridian streets and was arrested by the sheriff’s Transit Policing Division the next day.

If convicted, Milton could face up to 26 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities previously said they were looking for three suspects but now say the other two men are considered witnesses to whom investigators would like to speak.

Man Charged in Stabbing Death in Highland Park Set to Appear in Court

November 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A Glendale man was scheduled to appear in court today to say how he pleads to a charge of murder in the stabbing death of a passenger aboard a Metro bus in Highland Park.

Allan Jay Milton, 43, of Glendale is scheduled to be arraigned on a murder charge stemming from the death of Phillip Melendez of Los Angeles. The charge includes the allegation that Milton personally used a knife while committing a crime.

Milton, who’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail, allegedly stabbed Melendez on Monday after getting into an argument with him. He allegedly fled when the bus stopped at North Figueroa and Meridian streets and was arrested by the sheriff’s Transit Policing Division the next day.

If convicted, Milton could face up to 26 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities previously said they were looking for three suspects but now say the other two men are considered witnesses to whom investigators would like to speak.

UPDATE: Suspect Arrested Accused of Fatally Stabbing a Man on Bus in Highland Park

November 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 43-year-old man accused in a fatal stabbing on a Metro bus in Highland Park was arrested Wednesday and booked on suspicion of murder, but two other suspects remain at large.

Allen Jay Milton, who was detained Tuesday, was booked after being interviewed by homicide detectives. He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

The fatal attack occurred on Metro bus line 81 along North Figueroa Street around 10:40 p.m. Monday.

Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Barraza said three men boarded the bus at Avenue 57, walked to the back and began arguing with the victim, who was stabbed in the chest. The assailants fled when the bus, which was carrying about 10 passengers, stopped at North Figueroa and Meridian Streets, he said.

The name of the victim, who was in his 30s, has not been released.

The two suspects still being sought were described only as Hispanic men, reportedly ranging in age from 25 to 35. Anyone with information about their whereabouts was urged to call the Sheriff’s Information Bureau, (323) 890-5500, or Crime Stoppers, (800) 222-TIPS.

(courtesy of LASD)

Three suspects identified of stabbing of a man in a bus in Highland Park. (Courtesy of LASD)


Prison Sentence for Hit-and-Run Driver

November 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 22-year-old Los Angeles man who earlier this year fatally hit a bicyclist in Highland Park then fled the scene has been sentenced to nine years in state prison, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced today.

Alexis Virto pleaded no contest last month to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon handed down the sentence.

According to authorities, Virto was driving northbound on Figueroa Street near Pasadena Avenue at a high rate of speed at about 3 a.m. on June 26 and struck 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna with his vehicle.

The force of the crash severed one of the victim’s legs, according to the DA’s Office.

Prosecutors said Virto drove away with Luna on his hood for about 200 yards. Virto abandoned his car and was later arrested at his home.

UPDATE: Two Women Found Dead in Debs Park

October 29, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

A 17-year old girl found dead in a park in Montecito Heights was identified Friday by friends as family as Briana Gallegos of Pico Rivera.

The coroner’s office previously identified a second victim as 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada.

The women’s deaths have been classified as homicides, Officer Aareon Jefferson of the Los Angeles Police Departments Media Relations Section said.

The bodies were found about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, according to the LAPD.


Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a popular location for hikers and runners. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Motecito Heights is home to several miles of hiking and cycling trails. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A woman walking her dog came upon the bodies, which were on the side of a hill, and called police, LAPD Officer Matthew Ludwig said Wednesday.

According to police, the women were found fully clothed about 300 yards from the street, and did not appear to have been sexually assaulted. He declined to comment on whether police found obvious signs of trauma on the bodies.

The coroner’s office has not officially identified Gallegos as one of the victims but friends have identified the teen and written on her Facebook page. According to the page, Gallegos was a student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassel Park.

One of the young women was reported missing at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, nearly seven hours after their bodies were found.

The park is popular with hikers and walkers. It’s also home to a National Audubon Center.

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“I’m really scared knowing a killer may be out there,” said Helen, who asked not to use her last name.

“I never walk in the park alone anymore, not since those women were attacked last year, ” she told EGP.

She was referring to the assault on three women between January and July 2014.  At the time, police said the suspect was targeting women walking alone in the park. Signs with a composite drawing of the suspect warning women to to not walk alone and to keep an eye out for the suspect were posted around the park.

Autopsies to determine the victims’ causes of death were pending, according to the coroner’s office.

Article includes information from City News Service.

Update: 6:39 p.m.

Updated Oct. 30 2:45 p.m.

Man Pleads in Hit-and-Run Death of Bicyclist

October 8, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man pleaded no contest Monday to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk in Highland Park.

Alexis Virto is set to be sentenced Nov. 5. Under the negotiated plea deal, additional counts of driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person are expected to be dismissed.

The June 26 pre-dawn collision killed 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna

Investigators believe that Virto was driving between 60 mph and 80 mph, and said the impact of the 3 a.m. crash severed one of Luna’s legs. The defendant drove away with the victim on the vehicle’s hood for about 200 yards and later abandoned the car.

Police said Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene and had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, according to investigators.

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