A 32-year-old man was arraigned Tuesday on murder, felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence charges in connection with a crash in Maywood that injured two men in their 20s, one of them fatally.
Leopoldo Acuna Leon is accused of crashing into several vehicles and the two victims about 2:30 p.m. Friday on 59th Place near Heliotrope Avenue and trying to run from the scene, according to Lt. Samuel Arellano of the sheriff’s East Los Angeles Station.
Leon was collared by a Maywood city employee who held him until deputies arrived, Arellano said.
Both victims, ages 28 and 24, were taken to a hospital, where the older man was pronounced dead, according to Arellano.
The 24-year-old was treated for minor injuries and released.
Leon is being held without bail, Arellano said.
It’s unclear if he entered a plea.
State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer.
That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk.
DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.”
“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.
The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. The agency will also consider cleanups at properties were a resident
“has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead levels.”
The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.
Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant.
State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.
Rape and other charges were filed Tuesday against a Los Angeles man who allegedly broke into a Maywood woman’s apartment and sexually assaulted her.
Salvador Martinez, 28, was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon at the Metropolitan Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles on three counts of forcible rape and one count each of forcible oral copulation, first-degree residential burglary and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.
The criminal complaint includes the allegation that the forcible sex crimes were committed during the course of a Nov. 13 residential burglary at the 36-year-old victim’s apartment.
The woman — who was home alone — was attacked between midnight and 4 a.m. that day in the 3600 block of Maywood Avenue, according to Sgt. Betty Lascano of the Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau.
Martinez was arrested about 3:30 p.m. last Friday near Fresno, then transported back to Los Angeles County.
Prosecutors were asking that his bail be set at $4.15 million.
If convicted as charged, Martinez could face up to 106 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Anyone with information about the suspect was urged to call their local law enforcement agency or the Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau hotline at (877) 710-5273.
Authorities are searching for a suspect in a series of burglaries and sexual batteries in Maywood.
The latest incident occurred about 4 a.m. Saturday in the 3500 block of East 58th Street, near Slauson Avenue and the border with Vernon, said Deputy Lisa Jansen of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
“The suspect forced entry into the victim’s residence,” Jansen said. “Once inside, the suspect entered the victim’s bedroom and covered her mouth.”
He fled after the victim’s mother heard noise and checked on the victim, she said.
The suspect’s description and method of operation was similar and in close proximity to four early-morning burglaries in October, Jansen said.
The first occurred about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 5 at a residence in the 6100 block of King Avenue where the suspect broke in and grabbed a woman’s breasts. She fought him and forced him out of the house.
The second occurred about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 18 when a man sneaked into an apartment complex in the 4300 block of 53rd Street and was chased away by a man inside.
Detectives said they believe the same suspect entered a residence at 3 a.m. the same day and fondled a woman who woke up and locked herself inside a bedroom to call 911.
At 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 19, the suspect entered a residence in the 3600 block of 53rd Street and covered the mouth of a girl who was sleeping in her bed. She screamed for help and her father came in and punched the suspect, who fled.
The general description provided by the victims is that of a man in his 20s, between 5 feet 2 and 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a thin build and wearing dark clothing.
Anyone with information on the case was urged to call Detective Hector Andujo at (323) 981-5051; the watch commander at (323) 264-4151; or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it has begun working with state officials to identify and remove hazardous materials released by a spectacular fire at a Maywood industrial park that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people.
The three-alarm fire erupted about 2:30 a.m. June 14 at a plastics facility, then spread into a metal recycling yard, triggering explosions as metals and chemicals ignited. It was finally extinguished the following day.
The inferno gutted the industrial warehouse in the 3500 block of Fruitland Avenue, sending a thick plume of noxious smoke over the region.
Solid and hazardous waste will be separated, categorized and loaded onto trucks for transportation to approved disposal facilities, regulators said.
The EPA has identified arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury as “contaminants of concern” at the site.
The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery — CalRecycle — is working with EPA to remove the debris.
Air monitoring at the location has so far detected no potentially dangerous volatile organic compounds, according to the EPA.
The agency does not anticipate needing below-surface excavation as most of the ground surface at the site was covered with concrete or asphalt prior to the fire.
After waste removal is completed, the EPA said it will evaluate the site conditions to ensure that no hazardous wastes remain.
The fire affected Gemini Plastic Enterprises and two other facilities — Panda International Trading, a scrap metal recycling business, and SOKOR Metals, an electronics recycling company.
Maywood elected officials failed to properly oversee the city’s financial management, leaving the city with crippling debt, according to a state audit released Monday, but city leaders said improvements are being made by the municipality’s new administration.
The State Auditor’s report found that while the city’s financial situation is improving, “it continues to face fiscal challenges that threaten its ability to provide services to its residents.”
According to the report, the city has run a deficit in its general fund for six years, and has lost potential revenue by failing to collect on parking citations and business license fees, while failing to address overdue debts.
“Maywood’s city council has failed to oversee the city’s operations adequately and has violated its fiduciary duty — its responsibility to act with the utmost good faith for the benefit of the city,” according to the report. “Specifically, the city council did not monitor the performance of a former city manager but continued to approve generous contract amendments for the individual.
“As a result, it allowed numerous financial and administrative problems, such as a failure to maximize revenues and lack of the most rudimentary internal controls, to remain uncorrected,” according to the report.
The report also points to political infighting, excessive spending, poor hiring decisions and inadequate employee oversight as contributors to the city’s financial failings.
The audit was triggered by law passed in 2011 in response to the Bell scandal that found widespread mismanagement and corruption in the city’s handling of its finances. The law authorizes state auditors, under its high-risk audit program, to examine dig into the finances of local governments and special districts to determine if they are on solid financial footing.
City Councilman Sergio Calderon said the audit places blame for the issues on the shoulders of prior leadership, most notably former City Manager Lilian Myers, who was fired in December. He said prior council members “refused to monitor her work performance and yet continued rewarding her with lucrative contract amendments and extensions.”
The audit noted that the council failed to conduct regular performance evaluations on the former city manager at a time when the city was trying to recover from financial troubles that prompted mass layoffs at City Hall.
“Although the city council did not adequately monitor the former city manager’s performance it continued to extend her contract, while also adopting amendments restricting their own ability to dismiss her, acting in clear violation of its fiduciary responsibility to act with the utmost good faith for the benefit of the city,” according to the audit.
Acting City Administrator Reuben Martinez said the audit also pointed to weak or non-existent accounting practices, and the city is “working to correct that situation immediately.”
“At the time of the audit, we had already begun to correct our accounting practices and protocols to ensure that we’re protecting the public’s interests and money, and we will use the auditor’s recommendations to (further) tighten up our administrative practices and procedures,” Martinez said.
“With the support from the city council and advice from a professional financial expert we’re moving forward to adopt and implement sound accounting and operations procedures that will bring the city back from the brink of financial ruin.”
Not all the blame, however, was pointed at past management and council members no longer in office. The report cited “poor stewardship” by the current city council in relation to its hiring practices.
According to the audit report, “The city council has made hasty hiring decisions, changing the city manager twice in the span of four months and hiring a new city attorney only to replace him one month later, all while violating the state open meeting law.”
The city council hired Martinez, a laid-off Boeing project manager, even though he had no experience in municipal government.
The report also criticized council members for ”wasteful spending” on a $250 monthly mileage stipend that benefitted them personally “to the detriment of Maywood’s resident.” At just one square mile in size, Maywood is the second-smallest city in L.A. County.
Supervisor Hilda Solis says the audit “flags major issues” that directly affect residents and threaten the city’s ability to provide services to residents. It’s imperative Maywood’s management quickly execute the 40 recommendations made by State Auditors, she said in a written statement.
Recently, our neighbors in the City of Maywood suffered due to a chemical explosion of toxic magnesium at a local plant. This is not the first incident of chemical exposure to afflict the Southeast region. Residents are still recovering, legally, physically, financially, and emotionally, from lead contamination that spewed from a nearby Exide battery plant in Vernon.
These occurrences have had a tremendous effect on the residents’ health and well-being, and the lack of aid and assistance the community has received in the aftermath increasingly disheartening. More specifically, Maywood has received little of the necessary relief provided by Los Angeles County and its Department of Health (DPH). The minimal support that the County has supplied has taken the form of an inadequate evacuation decree (a radius of only one square block) and the provision of cleaning services to homes on only one side of the affected street. The County has ignored the fact that the explosion subjects the entire neighborhood to devastating consequences, and its disregard has left the mostly Latino, working class community in distress, as it struggles to find the means and support required for recovery. This neglect does not, and will not, go unnoticed.
In stark contrast, the County has paid a disproportionate amount of time and money to other communities affected by recent environmental crises. For example, when a gas leak occurred in the suburban and more affluent Porter Ranch area, action was quickly taken. Press conferences and hearings were held, studies were commissioned, and there was a call for an evacuation with a radius of five miles, despite the leak having been deemed non-hazardous. I do not claim that the DPH’s response to this disaster was excessive or superfluous. Instead, I argue that Maywood, and other Southeastern LA cities affected by their own recent environmental crises, must receive the same humane treatment.
The greater question looms: why do communities like Porter Ranch receive much greater aid and attention in times of crisis than industrial communities? Unfortunately, Latino communities such as Maywood have long faced social injustices, and environmental inequities do not escape the extensive list of discriminations.
It is time we take action. Southeast LA cities must be protected, to the same extent as Porter Ranch, in case of future catastrophes. I request that the County and Department of Public Health establish a standardized and impartial system that details the proper response to such environmental calamities. Protocols must be instituted, so that when danger does strike, each and every city in Los Angeles County, despite income or racial status, will be defended by the justice of the law. This is not only a legal duty, but also a moral duty. We must defend the notion that each and every life, regardless of their residential zip code, matters. At a time when our country seems to be at its most unstable, with acts of hatred and wickedness plaguing the nation, we must come together as a united front, bound by our humanity, to tackle this injustice so that we may see a better future for not only ourselves, but for future generations.
Pastor William D. Smart currently serves as the CEO of the Greater Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
For several years now, Joe Gonzalez of Boyle Heights has voiced his complaints to officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control; repeating himself at nearly every Exide-related meeting he attended.
“They know me by now, they’ve heard it all before,” he told a City Terrace resident Monday outside the latest public meeting seeking input on the decontamination process for residential properties contaminated with lead by the now shuttered battery recycler.
On Monday, for the first time, his and the statements of others were recorded for the official public record on the cleanup process, something Gonzalez has urged DTSC officials to do for years.
“Regulars” like him have attended dozens of public hearings and meetings since air quality regulators forced the Vernon-based plant to suspend operations in March 2013 and to inform over 110,000 east and southeast Los Angeles County residents of their elevated cancer risks due to toxic emissions.
Gonzalez contends there would already be an accurate and transparent record of what residents have said during the closure process if their hundreds of hours of testimony and public comment had been videotaped or recorded for the official record.
As a result, “There is no oral history of what we’ve been through” for the public or elected officials to refer back to, adds Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights.
That changed Monday, however, when residents and environmental activists spoke on the record, often repeating what they’ve said at past meet meetings about what DTSC should consider in preparing for what some environmental experts believe could be the largest toxic cleanup in state history.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DTSC is required to consider and release its cleanup plan and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for public review, which is to be documented by a court-mandated recorder. The document will cover the potential effects of removing and transporting lead tainted soil during the cleanup of homes within 1.7 miles of the Exide plant. The same process took place when the state agency presented an
EIR outlining how Exide plans to clean the now permanently closed facility in Vernon.
“I’m glad, in this case, there is a formal record” of what we want state regulators to do, Marquez told EGP.
Unlike recent scoping meetings in Huntington Park and Commerce where attendance was light, well over 100 people attended Monday’s meeting at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.
“We have attended meeting after meeting,” observed Rev. Monsignor John Moretta. “Your presence is important,” Moretta emphasized.
Comments from all three scoping meetings focused on concerns that the residential cleanup itself is not being done efficiently and thoroughly. A large number of residents at the meetings have asked that the 1.7-mile radius be expanded to include more communities.
“Expand the scope,” demanded David Petit, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Lead doesn’t decide to follow one side of the street but not the other.”
Other residents asked that the state agency consider decontaminating the inside of homes and parkways, and that the cleanup be done block by block to avoid re-exposure.
“You can’t just clean one property here and there and expect the whole neighborhood to be cleaned,” said Gonzalez.
Drawing outrage from many was the protracted timeline for starting the cleanup, which cannot begin until the EIR process is completed in June 2017.
So far, 236 of the estimated 10,000 homes possibly contaminated with lead have been cleaned.
“We still have a long way to go,” noted Carlos Montes. “It took years for us to force them to close the plant down and it will take years for them to finish the cleanup.”
Terry Cano, a lifelong Boyle Heights resident, has repeatedly told DTSC officials her family has suffered many health issues over the years. Her block is home to residents suffering with various forms of cancers, she claims are the result of constant lead exposure.
“I have never seen any plan … [detailing what can be done to protect] the health of the community,” Cano told state regulators. “We need to know the cumulative effects of being exposed to toxins.”
Cano is also angry that the public cannot access the results of soil tests taken from area schools, a complaint made by many residents since the fallout from Exide’s lead and arsenic emissions became public.
“I have asked this specifically, that needs to be available now,” Cano demanded.
Gonzalez told EGP he would not be happy until minutes from all Exide related meetings are available to the public.
“There’s a court reporter now, [but] only because it is required under CEQA,” he pointed out.
Montes told EGP there may now be a paper trail of their concerns, but he’s not sure where it will lead.
“It’s great that we have a record of our concerns and complaints,” he said. “But we will have to wait to see if they do anything about it.”
“Significant accomplishments” were made over the July 4 weekend in cleanup operations of hazardous materials released by a spectacular fire at a Maywood warehouse, officials said Tuesday.
The three-alarm fire on June 14 gutted the warehouse in the 3500 block of Fruitland Avenue that housed Gemini Plastic Enterprises, authorities said.
Magnesium, copper, zinc and lead were among the explosive materials present at the business, along with chemicals and propane, Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said.
The fire sparked a series of strong explosions that sent a thick plume of noxious smoke over the region and resulted in evacuations.
In the aftermath of the blaze, a unified command was established that includes personnel from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Fire Department Health Hazardous Materials Division.
“Since June 30, 16 households were moved from their previous temporary accommodations to new hotels/motels,” according to a joint command statement.
“All displaced households were offered free public transportation cards, food and water provided by the Food Center, Tzu Chi Water Company and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office. Further, the Los Angeles Dodgers donated free tickets to an upcoming baseball game to all displaced residents.”
The first residence for re-occupation was approved on Saturday by the Department of Public Health and Unified Command.
“The returning household was greeted by representatives from the city of Maywood, LA County Fire Department, DPH and EPA,” officials said.
“Residents were provided a ‘Welcome Home’ gift basket by (the city) in celebration of their re-occupancy.”
Four more residences were approved for re-occupation on Sunday, the same day that all outdoor cleanups were completed and 14 of the properties were signed off by cleanup and assessment teams.
Four more residences were approved for re-occupation this morning and it’s anticipated that eight more will be cleared in the next two days.
According to the Unified Command:
– 37 households have been temporarily relocated, including four on the south side of East 52nd Street;
– 172 people remain temporarily relocated;
– all outdoor soil sampling, which was conducted at 24 parcels, including seven parcels on the south side of East 52nd Street, has been completed;
–outdoor cleanup is nearly complete on three parcels not yet cleared for reoccupation;
– all indoor sampling has been completed;
– nine residences have been identified as requiring indoor cleaning, and all have been cleaned up, but officials are awaiting verification sampling results to return before clearing the homes for re-occupancy.
Authorities opened a Community Information Center last week for residents and businesses affected by the fire.
The center, at the corner of Everett Avenue and East 52nd Street in Maywood, is open daily and can be reached by calling (323) 267-3843.
More information is available at publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/fire.
East and southeast Los Angeles County residents had an opportunity Saturday to have a say in the process to decontaminate their homes and other properties tainted with lead from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, in what is expected to be California’s largest cleanup effort ever.
However, while more than 100,000 people may have been put at risk from the toxic exposure, only about a dozen people showed up to the first meeting where their comments on how to go about removing the contamination from their homes would actually be on the record.
Lea este artículo en Español: Pocos Residentes Asisten a Reunión de Limpieza Residencial de Exide
For some residents, Saturday’s meeting at Raul R. Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park was the first Exide-related meeting they had ever attended. For others, it was the first time they would hear that their homes and families could possibly be in danger from exposure to cancer-causing arsenic and lead.
Lucia Kikunaga of Maywood told officials from the Department of Toxic Substance Control she was stunned when she received the mailer informing her of the meeting and that there could possibly be toxic chemicals in her home.
Kikunaga’s revelation was surprising given that there have been dozens of meetings and hearings over the last two years regarding the health hazard caused by the battery recycling plan in Vernon. Hundreds of hours of testimony and protests have taken place to date.
Of the handful of residents who spoke Saturday, a majority expressed concern over what they claim is a lack of outreach to their community.
“Public outreach is a key component in our efforts to keep the community informed about the Exide cleanup,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP, responding to the criticism. “We use a variety of methods to communicate in both English and Spanish.”
The state agency has sent out thousands of postcards, canvassed neighborhoods, set up drop-in information centers, a hotline and used social media to reach out to residents in the impacted areas, he added.
Yet, Kikunaga wasn’t the only person at the meeting to say they were unaware of the Exide catastrophe or efforts to clean up the aftermath.
“I always knew there was major pollution in our communities because we live in an industrial area, but this is very serious,” longtime Maywood resident Zoila Flores said in disbelief.
DTSC plans to test the soil of 10,000 properties within 1.7-miles of the Exide plant and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead by July 2018. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), before cleanup can begin DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of mitigation efforts such as soil removal and transporting tainted material away from properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.
On Saturday, it was clear that residents like Leonor Casillas still need basic information before they can begin to give input into what the cleanup process should look like.
Casillas told DTSC staff she had no idea there could be lead in the backyard of her Maywood home. She’s worried there may be a correlation with her husband’s cancer.
“What are the health impacts? And what else is going on in our area,” she asked Saturday.
DTSC, the lead regulatory agency charged with the cleanup, has already tested more than 2,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 homes within the preliminary investigation area, according to the agency. Residents from surrounding areas have repeatedly asked that DTSC expand the area where they are testing properties for lead, claiming the danger is much wider spread.
A second meeting to gather input from the public will be held today, June 30 at 6:30p.m at Commerce City Hall.
The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed around July 2017, a timeline state officials call “aggressive.” EIRs tend to take at least a year and a half, says DTSC’s Kimberly Hudson.
“It is common to extend the public review period,” she added, meaning the process could go longer if community members feel more input is required.
In the meantime, Flores told DTSC they should not forget about impacted areas like Maywood, just because it’s home to a large Latino and undocumented population,
“With so much effort we have been paying for our homes,” she said about the struggle to buy a home. “When it comes to selling our homes, what is going to happen,” she asked, worried the contamination could cause her home value to drop.
“Some of us are scared because we don’t know what the cleanup process is and we don’t want our properties taken from us,” echoed Manuel Borjas, referring to the fear among some residents that the process could lead to them losing their homes through eminent domain or being forced to leave their homes for a long period.
DTSC officials, however, assured Borjas and others in the room that the cleanup process takes less than 5 days and homes would not be damaged or taken through eminent domain.
“Well I don’t see any of that in your packet,” responded Borjas. “That is very important information for the people in my community who are not here because they are scared,” he said.
Looking around the room and seeing so few residents present, Kikunaga told EGP that residents must to do their part to hold the state accountable.
“I know nuestra raza, I tried to encourage my neighbors to attend and some just don’t care.”