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A home for the holiday

Written By kolimtiga on Sabtu, 30 November 2013 | 12.57

Roger Anderson has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

After spending more than three decades living on the streets — seeking refuge under bridges, in the woods and most recently on a small, grassy patch by the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles — the 47-year-old moved into his first apartment in time for Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, Anderson was given the keys to a studio inside a sleek apartment complex that opened earlier this month and caters to the city's chronically homeless. The space is modest with a kitchenette, spacious bathroom and comfortable-sized living space.

But for Anderson, the apartment is the first place he can set his wallet down without worry since he ran away from an abusive father at 13.

"It's like it's a dream," Anderson said, after examining a flat-screen television given to him through a program grant. "It's like I'm afraid I'm going to wake up."

As Anderson settled into his space, his weathered hands shook as he placed new bath linens on a towel rack. He put a roll of toilet paper on its holder, then sat for a second to absorb the moment, tears welling in his blue eyes. Later, when he was presented with gift cards to a local grocery store, he fell to his knees in gratitude.

Located in the heart of skid row, Gateways Apartments was created to house the worst of the worst, those with long stints of homelessness, mental illness and drug and alcohol issues, in hopes that providing four walls and a bed will bring stability to the hardest-hit transients. The residents began moving in this week.

"They are costing the system a lot of money," said Anita Nelson, chief executive of SRO Housing Corp., which developed the $28-million building on an empty lot. "And they have health issues where they need to be housed in order to get them stabilized."

Eighty of the 108 residents were plucked right off the streets, she said. The remaining residents moved in from nearby shelters and emergency housing. They are required to pay 30% of their income or government assistance as rent. Mental healthcare, job training and medical, drug and alcohol treatment are provided on-site.

Deborah Martin, a recovering addict, is also on hand to help the residents. Now the property manager at Gateways Apartments, Martin said she was homeless for six years and racked up 11 felony arrests for drugs and prostitution. But through various programs, many of which are made available to Gateways residents, she was able to get on her feet and now wants to help others.

"I can't say I walked in all of their shoes, but I've walked in some of their shoes," she said.

Anderson, who suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, says he credits the persistence of Gina Jones, a Joshua House Community Health Center social worker, for helping him accomplish his goal of getting a home. Jones walked him through the 11-week application process.

"I thank God for her," Anderson said.

Before Anderson moved into his new pad, he said, he checked himself into UCLA Medical Center to detox his body of alcohol. He also received treatment for a cracked rib sustained in a street brawl and a head injury after a drunken associate hit him with a beer bottle when Anderson mentioned he was moving into an apartment.

"I decided I wanted to quit because this is more important than drinking," he said. "At this point in my life, I think drinking will hinder me."

Inside his studio, Anderson marveled at the silence. The night before, at his sleeping spot near the 110 Freeway, the roaring engine of 18-wheelers and passing cars was the familiar lullaby.

"It's real quiet," he said. "I'm going to get used to it."


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Ridership discrepancy calls Metro's estimation method into question

After officials began locking the turnstiles to the Los Angeles subway in June, stopping many passengers from riding for free, the volume of people entering the system may have fallen significantly, according to data reviewed by The Times.

From May through October, the number of people passing through turnstiles each month fell from 4.8 million to 4 million, according to the data. Over the same time frame, however, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's ridership estimates climbed by about 400,000 passengers.

In September, the first full month that all gates were locked, about 3.7 million people were counted entering the subway — a decrease of 23% from May.

Metro officials said they cannot explain the discrepancy, and aren't sure whether ridership has fallen or not. They cautioned that the data were preliminary.

"Metro needs to find out what's going on and why, because that's just a huge number," former Metro director Richard Katz said. "You expect the number to drop by a few percent when you make a change, but nothing that big."

The gap raises questions about how Metro calculates ridership, a statistic that helps determine future federal funding, and what effect locking the subway system's gates will have on those who depend on the mass transit system.

In June, officials began locking the turnstiles, creating the system's first barrier to prevent people from riding for free. To board now, commuters must purchase an electronic card that they scan to unlock the turnstiles.

Clicks of a turnstile are automatic and mechanical, said David Sutton, who runs Metro's fare system, but they don't account for every passenger.

For example, turnstiles aren't installed between train lines at the 7th Street/Metro Center station, spokesman Marc Littman said, so people transferring are only counted once. Some passengers also skirt the gates by going through wheelchair-accessible entrances or emergency exits, he said. Others could be switching to buses, a ridership statistic that Metro measures separately.

"I ride the system every day," Littman said. "It sure doesn't look like there's a ... drop in ridership." Officials said their current estimates meet federal accuracy benchmarks: a 95% confidence interval, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Two dozen Metro employees create the estimates by counting the people who board every train at every station during key times of the day, said Conan Cheung, a deputy executive officer for the transportation authority.

A complete count takes about six months, he said, so every estimate is a cumulative tally of boardings from the previous half-year. For example, October's official ridership estimate of 4.6 million comes from a rolling tally starting in May.

Cheung said the samplings are a "snapshot of a day" and typically average out seasonal variations or unusually high or low days. He added it could take a few months for the estimates to adjust for any drastic ridership changes.

The estimation method Metro uses differs from that of other U.S. subway systems, including New York City and Washington, D.C., which rely solely on turnstile counts, officials for those agencies said.

"[Metro] should start incorporating turnstile data into their ridership estimate for their lines that have near 100% latched turnstiles," said Juan Matute, the associate director at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

He added that he'd like to see the turnstile and fare-entry data available on Metro's website, "so that researchers and even app developers could use that data in ways we've never thought of before."

In June, the Los Angeles subway recorded 700,000 more turnstile counts than estimated riders, according to the data obtained by The Times through a public records request. By October, the data points had reversed, showing 600,000 more riders than turns of the metal barriers.

Experts said that could indicate that before the subway turnstiles were locked, more customers were riding for free than the agency realized. Metro officials said they don't know the current fare evasion rate, but that it was 5% to 6% before the turnstiles were locked. A standard subway ticket costs $1.50, and transfers are not free.

Metro officials said they don't believe the dip in turnstile counts is purely a result of fare evaders who've stopped riding. Cheung said about 80% of passengers buy a seven-day or monthly pass, which allows for unlimited trips. "To have 23% fare evasion goes against that … relationship," Cheung said.

Metro officials said they hoped to incorporate turnstile counts — and possibly electronic ticket data — into their federal ridership estimates once the numbers are validated.




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Jailed suspect in O.C. slayings died from eating Ajax, attorney says

An attorney for an accused Orange County serial killer who died after deputies discovered he was ill in his cell said his client died after swallowing Ajax, a household cleanser.

Michael Molfetta said investigators believe his client, Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo, accumulated enough Ajax powder for a lethal dose that he then ingested. Deputies found Ocampo in his single-man cell at Central Jail in Santa Ana about 6:35 p.m. Wednesday, shaking and vomiting.

Ocampo, 25, was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he died in the intensive care unit about 1:40 p.m. Thursday.

The incident raises concerns about how the Sheriff's Department monitors its inmates, especially someone like Ocampo who has attracted so much media attention, Molfetta said.

"I'm completely baffled as to how this can happen to a guy who is, if not the most high-profile inmate in jail, one of them," Molfetta said. "His family is grieving. They want to know how this happened."

Ocampo, a former Marine, was accused of killing six people, including four homeless men, a woman and her son. He was scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing in January. He was arrested in January 2012 after a series of slayings in north Orange County and had set a personal goal of 16 killings, authorities said.

Prosecutors allege that the killings carried out by Ocampo started on Oct. 25, 2011, with the stabbing death of a high school friend's brother, Juan Herrera, 34, and their mother, Raquel Estrada, 53, in their Yorba Linda home.

The killings continued on the street with the slayings of four homeless men. Ocampo told police he targeted homeless people because they were "available and vulnerable" and he believed he was performing a public service because their presence was a "blight" on the community, authorities said.

Between December 2011 and January 2012, Ocampo was accused of fatally stabbing James Patrick McGillivray, 53; Lloyd Middaugh, 42; Paulus "Dutch" Smit, 57; and John Berry, 64, in separate incidents. All of the men were homeless.

Orange County prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty against Ocampo.

"The temptation by people is to say 'Who cares?'" Molfetta said. "That is a slippery slope right there because he is presumed innocent."

Ocampo's death is being investigated by the Orange County district attorney's office, which is routine for in-custody deaths, the Sheriff's Department said. An autopsy is scheduled for early next week but toxicology results will not be available for several weeks, officials said.

"There's no excuse, this should not have happened," Molfetta said, noting that the district attorney's office had notified Ocampo's family that his death was likely the result of his ingesting Ajax. "How hard is it to keep poison away from him? The answer is it isn't at all if you cared."

Inmates are provided a powdered cleaning product at their request to clean their cell, said Lt. Jeff Hallock of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. But he said he could not comment on how Ocampo died because the investigation into his death hasn't been completed and an autopsy is pending.

"It would be premature at this point to say Mr. Ocampo died as a result of ingesting Ajax, or any type of cleaning product," Hallock said. "We take the loss of any human life, regardless of the charges, very seriously."

Hallock said deputies are required to conduct security checks at least once an hour and log them. He declined to say whether Ocampo was on suicide watch, citing patient confidentiality. But if an inmate were on suicide watch, that individual would be held in a medical housing unit, which Ocampo was not, he said.

Ocampo's death infuriated a friend of one of his alleged victims, who called him a "piece of slime."

"All this guy did was take away from people," said Ron Cady, a friend of Smit, who was stabbed more than 60 times in December 2011 outside the Yorba Linda Library.

Cady, a truck driver, said Smit's eldest daughter introduced him to her father several years ago when she brought him to Cady's Garden Grove home for Thanksgiving dinner.

The two men had a lot in common, and Cady said Smit gave him a new perspective on homelessness. Before Ocampo's arrest, Cady reached out to homeless people in his neighborhood, telling them to be careful because a serial killer was targeting them.

Cady, 52, wanted Ocampo to go to trial and said he was angry that the victims' families would not get to see him brought to justice.

"Although I am a man of faith and believe there is ultimate justice, just the idea that he would have to go through and listen to every little detail of everything that was done and all the people that he affected, I think that is a form of punishment in itself," Cady said, "and now he doesn't have to go through that."



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Older Pitzer College students frustrated by housing restrictions

Tiffany Ortamond was visiting Pitzer College last spring when the tour guide said that older students could live in the dorms.

Ortamond, 26, said she immediately envisioned moving into one and being "part of the academic and social community." The U.S. Army veteran even considered living apart from her husband during the school year so she could study at the Claremont campus while he worked in Orange County.

But then Ortamond learned that the guide had misspoken: Undergraduates in the New Resources program, designed for students 25 and older, are not allowed to live on campus. So Ortamond commutes every day from her home in Tustin, a 35-mile drive each way.

"It's ironic that a place as liberal as Pitzer is marginalizing its minority students," Ortamond said.

College President Laura Skandera Trombley said that she understood Ortamond's frustration but that the school didn't have enough space to accommodate everyone. Pitzer only had enough room for about 70% of its students until last year, when the school opened two new dorms that added nearly 300 beds.

"I've heard from every constituent about how they've been frustrated and the college has tried to respond," Trombley said.

Pitzer administrators formed a group last year to study housing options.

The roughly 1,000-student school plans to build more residence halls so that 93% of undergraduates will be able to live on campus by 2020. Students must apply if they want to move off campus.

While most colleges and universities offer first-year undergraduates the chance to live on campus, many schools do not guarantee housing for transfer students. New Resources students range from freshmen to upperclassmen. The program is designed for older students who are pursuing a new career or want a liberal arts education in a small setting; participants can take courses on either a full- or part-time basis.

Pitzer student leaders acknowledge that the college has made progress but say that New Resources students should have been able to apply for the new dorms.

"I do think it's discrimination," said Chance Kawar, a freshman student senator who co-sponsored a resolution to allow older undergraduates into dorms. New Resources "students are just as much students as anyone else."

Kawar and others say that it's unlikely that many older students would want to live in the dorms because many already have families or don't want to have a roommate.

But a handful each year request housing because they have trouble finding suitable living arrangements and have to make long commutes, said Audrey Kolb, a New Resources senior who is also a student government leader.

"It can really be a problem for some people," said Kolb, 31, who said she never considered living on campus because the "idea of sharing a room would be weird."

One of the seven Claremont colleges, which also include Pomona and Harvey Mudd, Pitzer prides itself on its five core values, including social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

Instead of taking a set group of courses to fulfill their majors, Pitzer students work with their professors to develop a list of classes and requirements for graduation.

Many of the current 48 New Resources students said they were attracted to the school's idealism and sense of community.

"I'd never seen a school really follow their core values the way Pitzer does," said Kolb, a psychology major.

"I knew I wanted to go here from the moment I visited," Ortamond said.

It's unclear why older students have been prohibited from living on campus. The only mention of the restriction is a single line in the student handbook: "New Resources Students are not eligible for on-campus housing."

Pitzer administrators could not explain why the policy was originally adopted.

The program, which started in 1974, gives preference for admission to people who have not yet received an undergraduate degree. Participants pay the same tuition as regular undergraduates, which is $44,752 for full-time students, but there are special grants and financial aid packages for New Resources students and they can also study part-time.

New Resources students have a lounge with lockers where they can study or relax but "it would definitely be nice if I could take a 30-minute nap and have some space to myself," Ortamond said.

Ortamond said that her fellow students have been accommodating, holding study sessions during the day so she can attend, and that professors have been understanding when she's been caught in traffic.

The housing group, which includes students, administrators and faculty, is scheduled to issue a report by December, and Trombley said she anticipates that all students will have a chance to live on campus.

"I don't think we're going to have any problem housing transfer or New Resource students," she said.


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L.A.'s close-knit Tongan community struggles with poverty

Written By kolimtiga on Jumat, 29 November 2013 | 12.56

Dusk fell on the Imperial Highway apartment as Saia Holani scrambled to find a spare lamp, having handed off his own to a neighbor in need. Four of his children romped through the darkened living room, still in their Sunday best, as his wife offered pink wedges of watermelon to guests.

"No Tongan is here to get rich," Holani had said earlier, outside the humble chapel of the Lennox Tongan United Methodist Church. "Even the smallest thing — we give."

Families who trace their roots to the South Pacific islands of Tonga are among the poorest — if not the poorest of all — in Los Angeles County. The most recent Census Bureau estimates available show half of Tongan Angelenos are living in poverty. Unemployment is dismal. Incomes are sparse.

Yet even through the recession, Tongans and their churches held fast to their culture of sharing, drumming up funds for faraway schools, nearby funerals and friends in need. When Holani struggled to find work, his brother-in-law chipped in. Fellow churchgoers let him know about odd jobs, sharing chances at cash.

Now that he has a steady job managing maintenance for an apartment company, Holani readily gives back — a lamp, some money, whatever he can. Despite their hardships, Holani still sees the United States as "the land of opportunity." It was no mistake to bring his wife here, to raise their nine children on these shores. At his Inglewood apartment, he proudly displays a framed "copy of the copy" of the Declaration of Independence.

"It's Canaan," Holani said, dropping the Biblical reference with ease. "The land of honey and milk."

Waves of Tongans began leaving their South Pacific nation in the '60s and '70s to find better wages and education for their children, many trading a life of fishing and farming for paychecks and schooling abroad. Some headed to nearby New Zealand and Australia. Others migrated to Hawaii, California and Utah.

Scholars believe the Tongan diaspora now outnumber Tongans on the islands. Cathy A. Small, a Northern Arizona University anthropology professor who has long studied Tongan communities, visited a Tongan classroom a few years ago where children were told to write letters to their mothers in New Zealand, saying what they wanted for their birthdays. Nobody found the assignment strange.

Before the recession, overseas Tongans poured as much as $101 million into the nation's economy in a single year, more than a third of its gross domestic product at the time. The numbers have since fallen to roughly $70 million, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Holani was just 7 when his widowed mother moved them to New Zealand. Eventually, he met his future wife, Atelaite, in Tonga. They married two weeks later, and ultimately decided to make their home in Los Angeles, where her ailing mother was living. She remembers being afraid to look at the police officers toting guns, that food and clothes seemed cheap compared to the islands' imports.

But the rent? "In Tonga, you stay in your house for free!" she exclaimed.

In Los Angeles, many Tongans clustered in Hawthorne, Lennox and other areas near the airport, lured by the discount flights available to some airline workers. Sione Holakeituai, now a white-haired retiree, once spent his days laboring at an electronic lock company, his nights loading planes at LAX.

His wife worked for Continental. "Now we are going to fly until we die," the Mormon bishop said with a smile.

Others found work in construction or tending to the elderly. But the skills that many Tongans brought to the U.S. — fishing and farming — did not translate easily into big earnings or a swift ladder to the middle class, Small said. Some had trouble getting jobs they were trained for: Holani had worked with New Zealand prison inmates, for instance, but said he hadn't gotten his government paperwork transferred before leaving New Zealand.

And though many sought a better education, Tongans often landed in areas with struggling schools. Outside a church, 20-year-old Oli Saafi bemoaned stereotypes of Tongan Angelenos — gangs, getting knocked up, or putting sports over studying. The college student vowed to be different, to do right by the dreams of her grandfather.

The Tongan community here is so tiny that its Census Bureau estimates are blurred by wide margins of error. But they paint a worrisome picture: College remains rare for Tongan Angelenos. Less than half are in the labor force. And the average income per person — including kids — hovers around $8,100.

"It just doesn't make sense on a lot of levels," Small said. "You would think that people that have a 99% literacy rate, who were living with low crime and a strong focus on education, that they should be doing better in this country." Instead, "they're being absorbed into the underclass."

When the housing industry took a hit, Tongan families who relied on construction were battered. Many have yet to recover. On a bright November morning at the Tongan Community Service Center in Hawthorne, men and women lined up for canned green beans, peaches and corn off wooden pallets.

Sixty-year-old Mele Moala said her trips to staffing agencies had been fruitless. Her brother was still scraping for construction work day by day. Between picking up cans for his congregants, Holakeituai said one of his sons had insisted on staying with him after the downturn.

"He helps me," the Lennox retiree said. "If I stay by myself, I lose my house."

To outsiders, the constant sharing might seem like a handicap, "but I don't believe culture is holding them back," Small said. Instead, "culture is what allows you to survive."

In the little chapel off Lennox Boulevard, sturdy men and regal women with woven mats wrapped about their waists praised God. Their voices lilted and boomed over a brass congregation of tuba, trumpet and cornet, rising to the wooden cross flanked by two flags — those of the United States and Tonga.

Between songs, the Rev. Sione Veikoso reminded churchgoers that Thanksgiving was around the corner, a chance to thank God for their many blessings. Latecomers drifted in over the hours, the woven or beaded strips of their ornamental kiekie swaying over boldly patterned skirts.

After an impassioned sermon in Tongan, wriggling children were fed pizza and taught Tongan songs while men retired to a back room to chat over the ceremonial brew of kava. As he gazed over old photos of kava circles, Veikoso worried that too few twentysomethings were in the pews, that even his children speak mostly English at home.

When aunts and uncles ask for help, "my kids say, 'Mom, this is America. We have bills to pay,'" said Kiola Lomu, a Mormon mother of four who migrated to Los Angeles in the '70s. She scolds, "Yes, this is America, but if your auntie dies next week, you'll be sad you didn't pay!"

"In Tonga, when someone asks for a little chicken or some pigs, you give it for free," Lomu added. Even when she picks up cans from the community center, she passes some to her Lennox neighbors to share. "But everything here is money."


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A writer's experiment becomes a neighborhood ritual

Each morning this month, from 8 to 9, Stacy Elaine Dacheux has seated herself in a little roundabout in Echo Park, with low rosemary bushes behind her and a skinny cactus in front, at the spot where Lake Shore Avenue meets Effie and Lemoyne streets.

On a folding chair, her legs arranged such that her right ankle rests on her left knee, she's improvised a desk on which to prop her vintage Smith Corona. Thus settled, she has typed — as cars and trucks have whizzed by and neighbors have walked by, often with dogs in tow.

Dacheux is a writer and artist who had been thinking a lot about ritual when a friend asked if she'd like to give a talk at a Chinatown salon. She chose ritual as her topic. Her research started with herself.

Her morning routine had been to surf before she even sat up, checking Facebook status updates moments after opening her eyes.

She followed half-forgotten friends, logging the minutiae of their lives.

As for her life, she wrote in her blog:

"My past was overwhelming my present state of mind. The past was in my head before the present had time to happen."

Dacheux and her husband had only recently moved from Hollywood to Echo Park. Why not, she thought, as a monthlong experiment, take her status updates out into this new world?

In the open air, she would document what she experienced in the moment. She wouldn't fuss about spelling or punctuation. She wouldn't polish and repolish her sentences. Her manual typewriter would serve to slow her thoughts down. Tapping on its keys would be satisfyingly tactile. Satisfying too would be sending out those thwack-thwack-thwack audio relics of the world as it was before Wi-Fi.

Dacheux grew up first near Boston, then outside Birmingham, Ala. She went to the University of Alabama and then to Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., where she got her master's in fine arts at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

There she studied under Ken Mikolowski, a poet who for decades, on letterpress postcards, spread the work of such writers as Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski.

Ordinarily, a Facebook status update would zip through the ether. But following in Mikolowski's footsteps, Dacheux decided to send cut-up snippets of her reports from the roundabout out on handmade postcards by snail mail.

Such was the theoretical construct of her project. The reality was different — and better.

Dacheux has a beatific quality. She looks fresh-faced and gentle and kind. It wasn't long before her presence, accompanied by time-warpy typewriter tapping, began to draw in and break down the barriers of the curious.

"There's a bus stop right there, so I thought maybe she was waiting for a bus," said Gene Novak, 66, who lives right across the street. "Then I thought, maybe something is wrong with the poor child!"

One morning, to put a stop to his questions, he walked over with his Shih Tzu Coco and, before he knew it, he was making a new friend. He opened his garage door to show Dacheux his Austin Coopers. He started telling her deeply personal thoughts about his experiences in the Army in Vietnam.

"I've actually cried in front of her, and I don't do that," he said.

Not everyone asks Dacheux what she is up to. Some simply admire her for doing what she's doing, day after day, even in the rain (in a camp chair with a built-in umbrella, the typewriter protected by a plastic bag).

"Beautiful, beautiful, working every day," said Ana Escobar, 77, another neighbor, hugging Dacheux close.

Escobar isn't at her most comfortable in English. Dacheux never learned Spanish. But when the older woman brought the younger one a can of 7Up, the two began to bond in a way that transcended words.

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California lawmakers set for 5.3% pay hike

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers are set to receive a 5.3% pay raise Monday, but a dozen say they won't accept it in the wake of a tax hike approved last November and while many residents are still struggling to recover from the recent recession.

The raises were approved by the citizen panel that determines state officials' compensation. The base salary for most legislators will go from $90,526 to $95,291 — still below the $116,208 that lawmakers received in 2007, before their pay was cut during California's budget crises.

"I didn't think taking a raise … when we had just raised taxes on all Californians with Prop. 30, really made sense," said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), one of a dozen legislators who said they were turning down the increase.

Many rank-and-file state workers will receive pay hikes of 4.5% phased in through July 2015, but some lawmakers note that many in the private sector are hurting.

"Since California's economy continues to struggle, with many Californians unemployed or underemployed, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to accept a pay raise," state Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) wrote to the state controller, asking that no raise be included in his paycheck.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) are taking their pay increases.

"I have accepted previous decisions by the independent Citizens Compensation Commission to adjust legislative pay and benefits," Steinberg said in a statement. "I will continue to accept their decisions now."

The commission had cut elected state officials' salaries by 23% since 2008. But in June, citing the state's rosier financial situation, the panel announced raises for legislators and 11 others, including the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general and controller.

Gov. Jerry Brown's salary will go from $165,288 to $173,987 Monday. That figure is below the 2007 level of $212,179 for the governor's job.

"The governor intends to accept the Citizens Compensation Commission's decision," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown.

In addition to Allen and Wyland, Sen. Mimi Walters, an Irvine Republican, is refusing the pay hike, as are Republican Assembly members Jim Patterson of Fresno, Eric Linder of Corona, Rocky J. Chavez of Oceanside, Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks and Allan R. Mansoor of Costa Mesa. Democrats include Assemblyman Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and state Sens. Richard Roth of Riverside and Lou Correa of Santa Ana.

Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) said he is donating his raise to charities in his district.

Donnelly is running for governor on a platform of fiscal restraint, and Mansoor said California still has too many costly problems to be providing financial rewards to lawmakers.

"Schools are still being shortchanged. Our infrastructure is inadequate and underfunded. We have tons of pension debt. We still have water issues that need to be addressed and funded," Mansoor said. "So let's continue to be a little more responsible in how we manage our government before we give ourselves pay raises and a pat on the back. "

Roth said he rejected the raise because he was elected on his current salary. He, Wyland and Mansoor are among those who said they also would not accept a planned 15% jump in per-diem payments that many lawmakers receive to cover living expenses in Sacramento.

"I guess we'll see how high the cost of living goes up in Sacramento and whether I can continue my principled stand on per diem in future years," he said.

Some lawmakers, including Steinberg and Cooley, do not receive per diem, because their principal home is a short commute from the Capitol.

Legislative officials said the per diem for lawmakers will increase Monday from $141.86, the level the commission cut it to in recent years, to $163. The sum is based on a formula tied to the expense rate set by the federal government.

For lawmakers who averaged about $27,000 in tax-free per diem last year, the change would mean an extra $4,000 annually.

The new per diem remains below the $173 paid before the commission cut it.


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Man charged in series of O.C. homeless slayings dies before trial

A man charged last year in a "serial thrill-kill" rampage in Orange County that left six people dead, including four homeless men and a woman and her son, died Thursday after being found sick in his jail cell, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Deputies found Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo, 25, ill in his single-man cell about 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at Central Jail in Santa Ana, said Lt. Jeff Hallock. Medical staff at the jail attended to him, and paramedics transported him to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, Hallock said.

Ocampo died at the hospital about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Hallock said. The Orange County district attorney's office is investigating, as is routine with in-custody deaths, he said. The probe will probably take several weeks.

Orange County prosecutors were seeking the death penalty against Ocampo, who was scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing in January. His death means that the relatives of those killed will not have the chance to see him held accountable, said district attorney's spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder.

"It really deprives the victims and the people of California of the ability to put Mr. Ocampo to death on our terms and get justice for the victims of these crimes," she said.

His defense attorney, Randall Longwith, said in an email that he would have no comment "until we learn all the facts."

Last year, Longwith told The Times that his client had been behaving erratically and complained that he heard voices. He said Ocampo suffered from tics and headaches.

For months Ocampo went undetected, authorities said, as a string of killings occurred in North Orange County, starting with the stabbing death of his childhood friend and the friend's mother on Oct. 25, 2011. Raquel Estrada, 53, and Juan Herrera, 34, were stabbed and left to die on the floor of their Yorba Linda home, prosecutors alleged.

The killings continued on the streets with the slayings of homeless men.

James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was killed near a shopping center in Placentia on Dec. 20, 2011. Several days later, Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found dead near a riverbed in Anaheim. Paulus "Dutch" Smit, 57, was slain outside the Yorba Linda library on Dec. 30, 2011.

Police said Ocampo stalked a fourth homeless man, John Berry, 64, for several days after seeing his photograph in the Los Angeles Times. On Jan. 13, 2012, Ocampo ambushed Berry in a parking lot and stabbed him to death, authorities said. Police said a witness chased Ocampo into a mobile home park, where he was captured.

Investigators said he used the same Ka-bar Bull Dozier knife in the killings of all four homeless men.

Members of Ocampo's family said after his arrest that they could not believe he could be the killer who had struck such fear into the homeless population. They said the former Marine from Yorba Linda was generous to the homeless and frequently gave food and money to panhandlers.

But prosecutors said Ocampo selected homeless men and stalked them. He set a personal goal of 16 slayings, authorities said.

Ocampo told police after his arrest that he targeted the homeless because they were "available and vulnerable" and that he believed he was performing a public service because their presence was a "blight" on the community.

An Anaheim detective told grand jurors that Ocampo's "demeanor would change, and he seemed to get excited" as he described the attacks to police. Ocampo told detectives he joined the Marine Corps in 2006 with the hope of learning to kill, but he was disappointed that during a six-month tour in Iraq he drove a water truck and never saw combat, according to the transcript of the grand jury hearing.

When Ocampo was asked what sort of consequences he deserved, the detective told grand jurors, Ocampo answered without hesitation: the death penalty — lethal injection — or "whatever is quickest."


Times Staff Writers Nicole Santa Cruz and Christopher Goffard contributed to this report.

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L.A.'s DWP stops issuing shut-off notices amid billing problem

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 28 November 2013 | 12.57

The head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Wednesday that his agency has stopped issuing shut-off notices as it tackles problems associated with as many as 70,000 late or inaccurate customer bills.

Faced with questions from City Council members upset over the billing debacle, DWP General Manager Ron Nichols said his agency also will not initiate new collections on unpaid bills through the end of the year.

Since the DWP switched to new customer software three months ago, ratepayers have experienced delayed charges, bills that are dramatically higher than they should be and long hold times when they call demanding answers. Nichols told council members that corrections are underway, with reimbursement checks already being received by some customers.

The situation "is getting better each day," he said.

Despite those reassuring words, the council voted 12 to 0 to impose a moratorium on new shut-off notices. As part of that vote, the council agreed to give the DWP the flexibility to cut off service to those whose accounts were delinquent before the utility switched to the new billing system.

Councilman Mitchell Englander, who proposed the moratorium, said the shut-off notices sent by the DWP in recent weeks had left families and seniors on fixed incomes "scared to death."

"We've heard of nightmare stories … where people are on autopay and suddenly their savings are sucked out of their account and they can't pay their bills or they're bouncing checks," said Englander, who represents part of the west San Fernando Valley.

The DWP said converting to a new customer system is expected to cost $162 million once staff time is included. Weeks after that process began, ratepayers started coming forward with horror stories about massively inflated bills.

DWP customer Maria Schriber, 34, received two overdraft notices from her bank after the utility billed her for $1,766 — an amount she described as roughly 40 times her typical bimonthly bill. Schriber, who lives in a 400-square-foot apartment, pays the utility through an automated deduction system and did not have the funds available in her account for such a large sum.

The Silver Lake resident said that over a three-week period, she spent 10 hours on the phone with the DWP and her bank trying to resolve the problem. She said that of the seven utility employees who spoke with her, two were pleasant and helpful, four were unhelpful and one was so dismissive he made her cry while she was on the phone.

The issue was resolved last week, when a DWP employee personally delivered a refund. The check was for around $1,500, Schriber said, because the DWP had repeatedly undercharged her earlier this year.

"I do appreciate those two employees who were nice to me. And they refunded my money, so I'm grateful for that," Schriber said. "But the whole experience left a pretty negative taste in my mouth."

Looking to cut long customer waiting times, the DWP launched a new system Tuesday that enables ratepayers to dial a number and leave a message asking for a callback. High call volumes have exasperated DWP customers in recent weeks.

Insurance agent Eric Jacobsen said he hung up after waiting on hold for an hour and 20 minutes with the DWP this month. Jacobsen, who lives in Northridge, contacted the utility after it billed him nearly $3,900 for service that should have cost around $2,400. After a second call lasting 45 minutes, he found a DWP service representative.

"She looked up my records and agreed [the bill] was wrong but said it was out of her hands," he said. "She couldn't even tell me how long it was going to take, nor could the supervisor. That's when I asked her, send me some money back. She said 'We can't. You're on autopay.' "

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said Jacobsen, like Schriber, will receive a refund. "We have canceled the bill and will issue a corrected bill based on his meter data," he said.


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Newport Beach trims number of wood-burning fire pits

In a step toward re-imagining the classic Southern California seaside, Newport Beach city leaders have agreed to thin out the number of fire rings that dot the city's shoreline and seek the installation of natural gas fire pits instead.

Sixty concrete fire rings on the sand in Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar have delighted beachgoers for decades and frustrated neighbors as everything from pizza boxes to couches went up in smoke.

But as related health concerns from the billowing smoke have increased, so has the push to rid the beach of the fire pits.

Newport Beach council members voted unanimously to eliminate more than half the wood-burning fire rings in the coming months and spread the remaining pits farther apart to reduce the smoke, which sometimes drifts into nearby homes or leaves pedestrians coughing.

And, if the South Coast Air Quality Management District's board approves a proposed demonstration project next week, gas-fueled rings will be placed near parking lots and sidewalks next to the beach.

"I find it hard to imagine the romanticism of having a fire ring next to a parking lot," said Councilman Ed Selich, suggesting that they find a way to pipe gas safely under the beach.

The AQMD said that as far as it knew, these would be the first gas-fueled rings on a California beach, although the agency is considering testing them at a second location as well.

The changes mark a compromise in the long-running debate between those who see the fire pits as nostalgic reminders of summers past and those who said they fear gulping down the carcinogenic particulate air matter floating in the smoky air.

"Is it perfect for either side? No," Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said before voting in favor of the change. "But I think it does improve the health aspects, and it still provides some of the wood-burning pits, or the fire pits, whatever we burn in them."

The fire rings will be reduced from 27 to 12 at Big Corona State Beach and from 33 to 15 on either side of the Balboa Pier.

"Let the chips fall where they may," said Councilman Tony Petros, who said that he didn't find the AQMD studies to be conclusive.

The studies compared the particle emission rates from one fire ring to that of the secondhand smoke created by 800 cigarettes.

These remaining city rings will be more heavily patrolled, perhaps by an outside agency, and only natural firewood or low-smoke logs will be permitted.

Viewed by the city as an experiment, the gas rings may one day replace the old rings entirely. An online reservation systems for users is being considered.


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2 officers hurt in Inglewood standoff; gunman holds 2 hostages

Two Inglewood police officers were injured Wednesday when a gun battle broke out at a home and then turned into a tense, hours-long standoff after the suspect barricaded himself inside the residence with two female hostages.

The dramatic incident unfolded in the normally quiet block of well-kept, single-family homes after the suspected gunman was seen trying to drag a screaming teenage girl by the hair, according to law enforcement authorities and witnesses.

When officers arrived, the shooter opened fire from inside the home and police fired back, authorities said.

A male officer was shot once in the chest but was "saved by his bullet-proof vest," said Lt. Oscar Mejia of the Inglewood Police Department. He was pulled out of the line of fire by other officers who had swarmed the scene in the 10700 block of Fifth Avenue.

A female officer was injured after she apparently fell from a wall while trying to aid the officer who was struck in the chest, Mejia said. She was treated at a hospital and released. The officer who was shot was being treated Wednesday night and was in good condition, police said. The injured officers have been with the department for at least 10 years.

Authorities late Wednesday had surrounded the home and were attempting to negotiate with the gunman. He was described as 45 years old and with a criminal history, said Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The hostages are the suspect's girlfriend and her daughter, according to authorities. The daughter, believed to be about 14, reportedly received a cut when the man tried to drag her by the hair.

As officers went door-to-door evacuating residents, crisis negotiators were talking with the gunman on a cellphone. He had made no specific demands, according to police.

Several neighbors said they were preparing for Thanksgiving when the commotion erupted.

One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she was cooking when she heard screaming about 12:30 p.m. The woman said she ran outside and saw a man dragging her 14-year-old neighbor into the house. The man, she said, is the boyfriend of the girl's mother.

Another neighbor, Kimberly Edwards, was on her way to the store to pick up supplies for Thursday's dinner when she saw several police officers and a man pleading with them to rescue his sister, who he said was being held captive in the house.

"I saw a panicked brother scream at the police officers: 'Please get my sister out of that house, please get my sister out of that house,'" Edwards said.

Shortly after, Edwards heard a barrage of gunfire. She said she saw a female officer stagger down the street and then collapse. Another officer came to her aid and carried her away, Edwards said.

An elderly woman who lives across the street was cooking a pie when a bullet whizzed through her front door.

"There were so many gunshots, oh my God, it was like you were in a war zone," she said.

Walter Maye said he heard about 15 gunshots. "I thought: God, what is going on," he said.

The 70-year-old Maye stood at Fifth Avenue and 104th Street on Wednesday night, watching his neighbors being escorted out of the area by officers.

"It's a shame," he said.



Times staff writers Ari Bloomekatz, Kate Linthicum and Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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Judge rejects panel's finding on former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley

A Los Angeles judge has thrown out a county commission's finding that former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley retaliated against officials with the county prosecutors' union, concluding that two key commission officials privately mocked Cooley and were biased against him.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin ruled that email exchanges between the county Employee Relations Commission's executive director and a hearing officer showed that Cooley and his office did not get a fair hearing in a case brought by the union before Cooley retired last year.

In the emails, hearing officer Thomas S. Kerrigan described Cooley as "mediocre" and wrote a poem to the executive director entitled "The Ballad of Steve Cooley" days after statewide election returns indicated that Cooley had narrowly lost his 2010 campaign to become attorney general. In the poem, Cooley was told to "hang down [his] head and sob" because he was "stuck in the same job," according to Lavin's decision.

Lavin said in his ruling issued last month that the emails showed that the commission's executive director, Paul Causey, decided union officials deserved to win their case even before the district attorney's office presented any evidence. In the emails, Causey referred to Cooley as "arrogant" and "too big for his britches," Lavin wrote. Before working for the commission, Causey and Kerrigan had worked as partners in the same law practice.

In a later memo to the commission summarizing the case, Causey's account "contained mischaracterizations of the evidence or anti-[district attorney's office] views that could only have been the product of a biased review of the record," Lavin wrote in his decision.

The case stemmed from complaints by officials with the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys that accused Cooley of transferring, reassigning or taking other disciplinary action against prosecutors in retaliation for their union work. Kerrigan, who presided over the case, issued a scathing decision in which he said Cooley's explanations for his actions "were false and clearly pretexts" for conducting a "deliberate and thinly disguised campaign" aimed at destroying the union.

Causey denied any bias and said the emails had been misinterpreted. Kerrigan's negative comments about Cooley were made after all the testimony in the case had been heard and when the hearing officer was meant to form an opinion about witnesses, Causey said. He said he never described Cooley as "arrogant" or "too big for his britches" but quoted others as saying so in an email he sent Kerrigan. Causey said the judge took his comments out of context.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Causey. He said he resigned from the commission in May following the email controversy.

Kerrigan could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Richard A. Shinee, who represented the union during the case, said most of the emails between Causey and Kerrigan were appropriate but that the judge focused on a few "inappropriate remarks."

"Given the overwhelming evidence of misconduct and anti-union animus on the part of Cooley and his administration, we thought the decision was in error," Shinee said. He said the union has yet to decide whether to appeal.

Brian Hershman, who represented Cooley and the district attorney's office, said his clients believed they would have won the case had they received a fair hearing at the commission. He noted that a federal jury last year rejected claims that Cooley violated the rights of two former leaders of the union when they were transferred to other positions within the district attorney's office.

Hershman said the emails between Causey and Kerrigan showed "extremely egregious conduct … that shocks the conscience."


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Artist Jack Armstrong accused of Beverly Hills rape

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 27 November 2013 | 12.57

"Cosmic artist" Jack Armstrong, who advertises his paintings as priced from $600,000 to $6 million, has been arrested and accused of raping a woman in Beverly Hills while she was unconscious.

Armstrong, 56, was taken into custody Friday at a home in Eagle Rock on a $100,000 arrest warrant issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for one count of rape. He was released after posting bond.

The incident occurred on March 4, 2010, when Armstrong and the victim struck up a conversation outside a club in Beverly Hills, according to the district attorney's office.

They went inside the club and Armstrong bought the woman "several beers."

"Prosecutors allege that the next thing the victim remembers is waking up in a bed in a hotel room laying next to the defendant with her underpants and tights off," according to the district attorney's office. "The victim was sore and nauseous. The defendant was naked."

They left the hotel and Armstrong drove the woman home, prosecutors said. The district attorney's office said a sexual assault exam was completed and evidence collected.

The Southern California artist got his nickname after christening his bright, multicolored paintings as "cosmic extensionalism."

Armstrong raised eyebrows in recent years when he unveiled a painted Harley-Davidson motorcycle priced in the seven figures.

Attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Beverly Hills police are calling on other possible assault victims to come forward.

"Detectives are seeking the public's assistance out of concern that Armstrong may have victimized other women using his so-called celebrity status," the department said.

They urged anyone with information to call (310) 285-2159.

Armstrong is due in court for arraignment Dec. 20 on one felony charge of "rape of unconscious person," according to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint alleges that Armstrong knew the woman was unconscious when the rape occurred.


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Identifying apartments at risk in quakes could take more than a year

Los Angeles city building officials have concluded that it would take inspectors more than a year to identify all the apartment buildings in the city that have a certain type of wood frame vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake.

City staffers developed a plan to winnow out these so-called "soft" story wood-frame buildings among the 29,000 apartment buildings across the city that were built before 1978, Ifa Kashefi, chief of the engineering bureau at the building and safety department, wrote in a report submitted to a City Council planning committee.

Officials have long known about the risk of soft-story buildings, particularly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, when about 200 of these structures were seriously damaged or destroyed, and 16 people died in the Northridge Meadows apartment complex.

Soft-story structures often are built over carports and held up with slender columns, leaving the upper floors to crash into ground-floor apartments during shaking. No city data exist to easily identify which structures are wood-framed and soft-story, Kashefi said.

The city's housing department provided addresses to 29,226 apartment buildings in the city built before 1978, according to Kashefi's report. Staffers would then use mapping programs to narrow down which apartment buildings need further field inspection.

The report estimates that 20% of the 29,226, or about 5,800 buildings, will be soft-story buildings, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need to be inspected on site to determine whether they are soft-story buildings or not.

Each inspector would be able to inspect about 30 buildings each day, according to the report, and the overall inventory effort would take about one year and a couple months, a department spokesman said. The report provided a sample checklist of things an inspector would look for in surveying these buildings.

A motion, introduced in July by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, asks building officials to present a proposal for how the city would be able to identify wood-frame soft-story residential buildings with at least two stories and at least five units and built before 1978.

LaBonge's motion came after San Francisco passed a landmark earthquake safety ordinance this year that requires about 3,000 wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened there.

L.A. Building and Safety officials are scheduled to present the report to the City Council planning committee Tuesday.

Last Friday, the City Council's public safety committee reviewed another motion submitted by LaBonge and Councilman Mitch Englander. The proposal asks staffers to report back on how the city could provide loans or help finance the retrofit of older concrete buildings and these soft story wood-framed buildings.

Englander has said it's unreasonable to simply create an "unfunded mandate" without looking into financial assistance for property owners. A statewide bond program may be the way to help property owners finance the costly retrofits, LaBonge said.

The motion was continued to the first quarter of next year. The public safety committee also continued Englander and LaBonge's motions for a monthly earthquake drill and an update on the city's earthquake preparedness efforts.


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L.A. County speeds up plan to rebuild youth probation camp

Los Angeles County officials took steps Tuesday to speed up a $48-million plan to rebuild and modernize one of the county's probation camps for young offenders.

Camp Kilpatrick, an aging 125-bed facility for juvenile offenders in Malibu, is slated to be torn down and reconstructed under a new design that probation officials said would allow them to implement a new "small group treatment" model.

"I think when it's finished, Los Angeles will have a state-of-the-art facility, and people will be coming from across the nation to see how to do it right," said probation department Assistant Chief Don Meyer, who oversees the county's 13 probation camps and three juvenile halls.

In the new facility, the young inmates will be housed in groups of 12 and will remain in those groups throughout the day as they go through classes, meals, and exercise and therapy sessions. Currently, most of the juvenile facilities house the young inmates in 80- to 120-bed dormitories.

The county's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a measure that could speed the project as much as 15 months by allowing the design and construction contract to be awarded to a single firm. That would allow the firm to begin demolition and construction while some portions of the design were being finalized.

The move to speed the process came after some of the supervisors complained last week about the long time frame for the project, which was projected to start construction in early 2016 and be completed a year later. The board voted in February 2012 to go forward with the Camp Kilpatrick work, using a $28.7-million state grant awarded in 2010.

"This should receive the 'burro-crat' award," Supervisor Gloria Molina said, in reference to the slow pace of construction. "I think it's pretty pathetic."

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said the process was partly slowed because he had agreed to engage community members, including youth advocates, in a "collaborative process" of conceptualizing the new facility, which took nearly a year.

"With something of this magnitude and this importance to L.A. County's juvenile justice system and our camp system … we're going to do it right, and it's going to be a project that will establish a pattern for the future," he said.

The board also voted Tuesday to approve several other measures that will allow the project to get started. Kerjon Lee, spokesman for the county Department of Public Works, said the bidding process for the contract to design and build the project could begin in March.


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Identifying apartments at risk in quakes could take more than a year

Los Angeles city building officials have concluded that it would take inspectors more than a year to identify all the apartment buildings in the city that have a certain type of wood frame that is vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake.

City staffers developed a plan to winnow out these so-called soft story wood-frame buildings among the 29,000 apartment buildings across the city that were built before 1978, Ifa Kashefi, chief of the engineering bureau at the Department of Building and Safety, wrote in a report submitted to a City Council planning committee.

Officials have long known about the risk of soft-story buildings, , particularly after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, when about 200 of these structures were seriously damaged or destroyed, and 16 people died in the Northridge Meadows apartment complex.

Soft-story structures are often built over carports and held up with slender columns, leaving the upper floors to crash into ground-floor apartments during shaking. No city data exist to easily identify which structures are wood-framed and soft-story, Kashefi said.

The city's housing department provided addresses for 29,226 apartment buildings in the city built before 1978, according to Kashefi's report. Staffers would then use mapping programs to narrow down which apartment buildings need further field inspection.

The report estimates that 20% of the 29,226, or about 5,800 buildings, will be soft-story buildings, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need to be inspected on site to determine whether they are soft-story buildings.

Each inspector would be able to examine about 30 buildings per day, according to the report, and the overall inventory would take about one year and several months, a department spokesman said. The report provided a sample checklist of things an inspector would look for in surveying these buildings.

A motion, introduced in July by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, asks building officials to present a proposal for how the city would be able to identify wood-frame soft-story residential buildings with at least two stories and at least five units that were built before 1978.

LaBonge's motion came after San Francisco passed a landmark earthquake safety ordinance this year that requires about 3,000 wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened.

Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety officials are scheduled to present the report to the City Council planning committee Tuesday.

Last Friday, the City Council's public safety committee reviewed another motion by LaBonge and Councilman Mitch Englander. The proposal asks staffers to report on how the city could provide loans or help finance the retrofitting of older concrete buildings and soft story wood-framed buildings.

Englander has said it's unreasonable to simply create an "unfunded mandate" without looking into financial assistance for property owners. A statewide bond program may be the way to help property owners finance the costly retrofitting, LaBonge said.

The motion was continued to the first quarter of next year. The public safety committee also continued Englander and LaBonge's motions for a monthly earthquake drill and an update on the city's earthquake preparedness efforts.


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L.A. Unified's local food push is healthy for area economy too

Written By kolimtiga on Senin, 25 November 2013 | 12.56

The savory smell of nutmeg and cinnamon wafts through the Azusa bakery, where dozens of workers in blue gloves and hairnets cook up L.A. Unified's newest star product. The "Glorious Morning" muffin is chewy and moist, packed with whole wheat, raisins and carrots — along with flaxseed for heart health and brain development.

The muffin is good for children but also for the bakery's business. The Los Angeles Unified School District's order with Buena Vista Food Products Inc. to bake 4 million servings of muffins, coffeecake and corn bread every month has doubled the firm's business and created 100 jobs this year. To keep up with the district's orders, the bakery has invested $1 million in four new ovens and other equipment.

"We haven't sold this much in the history of our company," said Buena Vista President Laura Trujillo. "Working with L.A. [schools] has completely changed the way we purchase and produce."

In a groundbreaking effort, the nation's second-largest school district is using its enormous purchasing clout to support local farmers and businesses. In just two years, the district has boosted its local purchases of fruit and vegetables from 9% of its $20-million annual produce budget to 75% today. L.A. Unified now buys locally for at least 50% of its overall $125-million food budget, about double the proportion of two years ago, according to David Binkle, the district's food services director.

L.A. Unified has bailed out struggling orange growers in Riverside County, buying their produce over Florida citrus. Sustainably grown whole wheat comes from Fresno farmers rather than the Midwest. Beef from Chino, distributed by an Inglewood company, largely has replaced a Cincinnati producer.

"It's fresher food from farmers we know," Binkle said.

The preference for products that originate within about 200 miles of Los Angeles was formalized last year by the Board of Education, which also directed the district to purchase 5% of its produce from small-to-medium-sized farmers. The district became Los Angeles' second institution — city government being the first — to pledge to support local purchasing, workers' rights, animal welfare, environmental sustainability and nutrition in a "good food" program developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

"The leadership LAUSD has shown in this area has resonated not only locally but also nationally," said Paula Daniels, the food policy council's founder and chairwoman. "By expressing support for these values through their purchases, the impact all along the food chain is profound."

The local purchasing program is the latest advance in the district's move toward more healthful foods, which began a decade ago when the school board banned junk food from campus vending machines, then eliminated flavored milk. The momentum accelerated when the district awarded two contracts in 2011 and 2012 worth $35 million for bread, produce and other items to Gold Star Foods Inc., a school food distributor based in Ontario.

Sean Leer, Gold Star's vice president of sales, said the contract was an opportunity to "do business and do good at the same time." The school system previously purchased items based on the lowest bid, usually from more distant suppliers. But Gold Star was able to use the district's enormous volume as leverage to negotiate lower prices from local vendors and also save money through cheaper transportation costs.

"With L.A.'s volume, we were immediately in business in a big way," Leer said. "We think with school meals, we can prop up the food economy of California."

One key partner in the district's effort is Field Fresh Foods Inc., a produce processor in Gardena.

On a recent production day, dozens of workers in rubber boots were operating high-speed machines that cut and washed lettuce heads in chilled chlorinated water, then dried and packaged them. The firm processes 240 kinds of fruit and vegetables for L.A. Unified and other customers; it also has developed, specifically for the school district, individual servings of fruit and vegetables packaged in colorful "Fresh Snacks" bags.

At any given time, the firm obtains 70% or more of its produce from local growers: broccoli and celery from Santa Barbara; tomatoes, romaine lettuce and strawberries from Oxnard. But onions currently are being purchased from the Pacific Northwest until they are ready for spring harvest in the Imperial Valley. And some products, such as bananas, aren't grown locally.

Emelio Castaneda, Field Fresh president, said his firm has worked with L.A. Unified for years, but the district's push for more local produce has doubled its orders from $4 million to $8 million annually and created 25 new jobs. These include entry-level vegetable cutters, skilled machine operators and administrative support staff.

Over at Integrated Food Service in Gardena, a venture to make waffles for L.A. Unified has created 31 jobs. Binkle ordered a potato-and-chive "savory waffle," with no added sugar, to be placed on the district's menu after he sampled one during a trip to Washington, D.C. The firm also makes quesadillas and French toast from whole grain cinnamon swirl bread developed specifically for L.A., which is now being purchased by Texas schools as well.

But Buena Vista is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the local effort.

Under instructions from Binkle — a certified executive chef — the firm has developed three types of muffins, served every Monday. The bakery also produces the district's famous coffeecake for Tuesday breakfasts, although Trujillo revamped the recipe into a more healthful version with whole wheat flour and less sugar and fat. The company's corn bread is on the menu once a month.

To meet the enormous new demand, Trujillo switched to around-the-clock shifts and hired workers. They include Edgar Hernandez, 25, who landed a job as a mixer after having looked for work for a year at fast food restaurants, furniture stores and clothing outlets. With a $13-an-hour wage and health benefits, Hernandez has been able to move out of his brother's apartment into his own place in Rialto.

"I applied for all the jobs you can think of but didn't even get a call back," he said. "Now I'm so happy."

After developing blueberry oatmeal and sweet potato muffins last year, Trujillo and others went to work on Binkle's request for the "Glorious Morning" muffin. They produced several versions, experimenting with pineapple, blueberries and different sizes of apple pieces to make sure they didn't sink to the bottom. They learned to throw in the raisins at the end to keep them from being crushed. They pureed the carrots to give the muffin moisture but also added shreds so students would know what they were eating.

The result: a muffin with no fat; local vegetables, fruit and flour; and omega-3 fatty acids.

"We want students to know that healthy food can also taste good," Trujillo said.

The big test came when the muffins, made and frozen that day, were served to students at Eagle Rock Elementary and other schools participating in the classroom breakfast program. Buying local is important, Binkle said, but the ultimate goal is to please the customer.

As students in Kathleen Wittick's sixth-grade class bit into the muffins, they rendered a range of verdicts. Jacob Hancock said he didn't like the fruit chunks and preferred a smooth texture. Elise Rehder called it "really good and squishy," moister than the drier blueberry oatmeal muffin.

Ally Lopez gave the muffin a big thumbs up. "It tastes like pumpkin pie," she said with a grin. "I just need whipped cream."


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Rulings on jail terms inconsistent after changes to three-strikes law

After nearly two decades behind bars, Mark Anthony White saw a chance for freedom last year when California voters softened the state's tough three-strikes law.

Within weeks of the election, White asked a judge to reduce his 25-years-to-life sentence under the ballot measure, which allows most inmates serving life terms for relatively minor third strikes to seek more lenient sentences.

White would have walked free if his request had been granted. But a San Diego County judge refused to reduce White's sentence. The judge ruled that the 54-year-old prisoner's last crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, made him ineligible for a lighter punishment.

A year after state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, judges around the state are handing down conflicting decisions on whether prisoners given life terms for gun possession can qualify for shorter sentences.

The ballot measure specifically excluded prisoners whose third strikes were either violent or serious, or who during the commission of their last crime were armed with a firearm or deadly weapon.

Whether someone convicted of simply possessing a firearm was in fact armed during the commission of a crime is a more complicated legal question than it might appear. The answer could mean the difference between freedom and life in prison for more than 280 third-strikers across the state. In Los Angeles County, about 120 prisoners are waiting for the legal wrangling over the issue to be resolved.

White has appealed the decision denying his request for a shorter sentence, and his case appears to be the first in which an appeals court could address the issue head on.

In Los Angeles, Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who is handling all of the county's resentencing requests, said he is waiting to make a decision in his cases until a three-judge panel of the state's fourth appellate district issues an opinion in White's appeal.

"This is a legal issue that will get settled, and we can then move these cases forward," Ryan said.

While possessing a firearm is legal for most people, convicted felons are not allowed to have firearms under California law, and being caught with a gun is a felony.

Mike Reynolds, whose daughter's 1992 murder led him to spearhead the creation of the three-strikes law, said he fears Proposition 36 will allow prisoners with such third strikes to obtain reduced sentences.

"The vast majority of people would agree that [White] is the kind of guy who does not deserve to be on the streets," said Reynolds, who campaigned against last year's reform initiative.

But attorney Michael Romano, who helped write the ballot measure, noted that White will not automatically win release if the courts decide that prisoners like him are eligible to ask for shorter sentences under Proposition 36. The initiative requires judges to evaluate every third-striker who asks to be resentenced and reject requests from anyone who poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.

Romano said the courts should not exclude prisoners based only on the fact that their third strikes were for firearms possession.

"If they're not a threat to public safety, they should be released," said Romano, who heads Stanford Law School's Three Strikes Project.

In Kern County, Deputy Public Defender Amanda Moceri said, two judges rejected requests to resentence prisoners serving life sentences under three-strikes for simple gun possession. But a third judge ruled last month in favor of one of Moceri's clients.

Moceri argued that being in possession of a firearm is not necessarily the same as being armed. Keeping a firearm in storage, for example, or giving a gun to a friend for safekeeping can be considered weapon possession. To be considered legally armed, however, someone must have a weapon readily available while committing another type of crime, such as theft or assault, Moceri said.

The lawyer successfully argued that although a jury found her client Rumaldo Barboza guilty of possessing a firearm, jurors were never asked to decide whether he was legally armed. The judge agreed and, after concluding that Barboza was not a danger to the public, reduced his 25-years-to-life sentence to six years, Moceri said.

A judge in Santa Clara County made a similar ruling in June, concluding that being a felon in possession of a firearm is not enough to disqualify a third-striker from a shorter sentence under Proposition 36.

In White's case, however, San Diego County Superior Court Judge David J. Danielsen concluded that felons caught with firearms were the sort of dangerous offenders Proposition 36 meant to keep behind bars.

Prosecutors described White as a member of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. On March 29, 1995, El Cajon police went to his home after an informant reported seeing White transport a large amount of methamphetamine, according to court records.

Police said they saw White holding an object under a cloth as he walked to his truck. After seeing the officers, White ran and threw the object into his truck, police said. They said they recovered a loaded Taurus .357 revolver. White's previous convictions included three separate strikes: robbery, burglary and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.

At a special appeals hearing in White's case this month at Brawley Union High School, Deputy Atty. Gen. Warren Williams argued that offenders convicted of gun possession should be excluded from Proposition 36 if judges determine that the weapon was on them or immediately available to them at the time of the crime.

White's lawyer said his client insisted he was no longer a member of the Hell's Angels when he was arrested and had the gun to protect himself from the gang, which had threatened him. Attorney Richard Jay Moller argued that judges should be given the chance to decide whether third-strikers like White — whom he described as a model inmate — pose a danger to the public today and release those who do not.

A decision in White's case is expected within three months.


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Program aims to get parents on their children's academic team

When Carmina Rosas visited her son's first-grade classroom, she got a lesson of her own.

She learned that her 6-year-old, who attends New Open World Academy in Koreatown, could read 59 of the 96 "high-frequency" words he should have known by that time in the school year.

She found out that to remain at grade level, her boy would need to know nearly three times as many words by the end of the year. To help him stay on track, Rosas was taught reading games they could play together. And, she received a personal homework assignment: to help her son reach 160 words in the next couple of months.

This was no ordinary parent-teacher conference. For one thing, the 20 or so parents met as a group with teacher Bianca Sanchez. For another, Sanchez discussed students' performance data and then taught the parents skills to help their children at home. It's called Academic Parent Teacher Teams, a program aimed at helping parents take a more active role in their children's education.

Rosas listened intently on a recent afternoon as Sanchez explained in Spanish that the success of children relied heavily on their parents' efforts.

"You may think that you can't help — but you can," Sanchez told the mothers and fathers present. "Our goal is to support our children. You can help them succeed."

Developed in 2009 by Maria Paredes of WestEd, a San Francisco education research group, the new approach to the conventional parent-teacher conference attempts to guide parents to work with clear goals to increase achievement. Parents meet with teachers every 60 days to discuss grade-level competency, practice activities to use at home and set specific, data-driven performance goals to be reviewed at the next gathering.

Once a year, parents have individual, in-depth meetings with teachers to review their student's performance and collaborate on a plan to further progress.

"Parents walk away with a sense of commitment and a really clear vision for what their role is that they didn't have before," Paredes said.

Sanchez learned of the Academic Parent Teacher Teams last summer and pitched the idea to administrators — who gave her the go-ahead to try it. She presented the program to other teachers at the school, who were interested. The school is now using it in six classes, one each in kindergarten through fifth grades. New Open World Academy, a Los Angeles Unified campus that has more independence in hiring and evaluating students and teachers, is considered to be the first to employ the program in Los Angeles.

It's also being used at 158 public schools in 14 states and Washington, D.C.

New Open World's students, often from working-class, immigrant families, do not get much help from parents. It isn't because they are unwilling to help, but rather, they do not know how, Sanchez said.

"Our students are already at a disadvantage because they don't have that," she said. "So it's our job as a school, as teachers to do that outreach to bridge that gap."

Paredes developed the program while working to boost parent involvement at Creighton School District in Phoenix — a largely low-income K-8 district. She began studying parent attendance at school events. Her research showed that if the teacher was the leader of the event, parent attendance was consistently about 90%. If the meeting didn't involve the teacher or was not related to student performance, attendance plummeted to about 5%, she said.

Almost none of the events Paredes reviewed was related to student learning or classroom instruction. For parent conferences, teachers met individually with parents for about 15 minutes twice a year — which is typical throughout the country, she said.

Parent-teacher conferences typically revolve around student behavior, Paredes said. "It's usually about letting parents know if their kids are good boys or good girls in school and if they're turning in homework or not," she said.

She designed and implemented the program at several schools across the Phoenix district — monitoring student progress. At the end of the year, students whose parents went through the program progressed at a much higher rate than their peers who did not.

If given the tools, parents "will do the work and give their children that boost," she said.

At New Open World, parents practiced a reading game in which participants roll a die and read a series of words that correspond to the number rolled. Rosas, playing with another parent, went first.

"Mother, before, very, far, make," she read, earning 10 points for reading all the words correctly. She went on to win the game.

Rosas makes sure her four children do their homework each day but has struggled to help them with their assignments, she said.

"I always try to help them, but it can be difficult for me," she said. "But with the information they give us and the games — I have a way to help them myself now."

Her son, she said, is a bit rambunctious and always wants to play.

"I'm going to make it a point to do it each day," she said. "To reach the goal, we have to play every day. So that's what we're going to do."

After two weeks, her son had learned 14 new words. Only 87 words left until the next meeting.


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After the typhoon, Filipinos rally around Pacquiao's punches

The ladies of the Filipino ministry of Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church discuss Typhoon Haiyan over a table strewn with grilled fish, ribs, sliced pork belly, chicken wings, chili and a massive platter of mixed rice and flour noodles called pancit.

"The typhoon hit here," says Pinky Santos, pointing to the map in gold thread on her blue polo shirt. "My family is here," she adds, moving her finger north.

For many Filipinos, it's been a somber month of sharing links to donation websites on social media and organizing aid trips to affected areas. More than 5,000 people have died in what some consider the most destructive typhoon to hit land, and Flor Ross, the night's cook, is still waiting to hear from her uncle in Tacloban City. Three of the children in the church group are considering joining aid missions.

It's hardly a time to celebrate. But it's Saturday, and Manny Pacquiao fights tonight. Filipino tradition demands a gathering.

Even in Tacloban City, where the storm hit hardest, cable operators set up TV screens inside a sports stadium to broadcast the fight to survivors. At the Arcadia home of Tom and Flor Ross, the women drape Philippines flags and cook a feast that seems far too large until about 30 people show up. They start a betting pool, with the proceeds going to typhoon survivors.

Agnes Ma begins the dinner with a prayer.

"Let us pray. God is great. Thank you for the food and Tom and Flor and this beautiful house and for hosting the fight, and help the people who have been affected by the typhoon. Give them hope ... and a victory for Manny Pacquiao."

Everyone grabs paper plates sagging with the weight of grilled meats and rice, and the church group divides into two viewing parties: adults and children. Two television screens set up in separate rooms show the pre-fight broadcasts, and the household's allegiances becomes clear.

Brandon Rios, Pacquiao's opponent, is seen warming up, and many remark on how nervous and sweaty he looks. Then HBO shows the clip of Pacquiao toppling face-first to the canvas in his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, and there is a collective groan. Ma's son, Andrew, clad in a T-shirt from Pacquiao's gym, has to look away.

"Man, I really hate watching that," said Andrew, 23. "I cannot watch that."

Filipinos tend to take Pacquiao's victories and defeats personally, Andrew said. Last year, Mexican and Filipino friends of his gathered to watch the Marquez-Pacquiao fight. He and his Filipino friends left immediately after Marquez knocked out Pacquiao. A Mexican friend even broke up with a Filipino girlfriend that night.

Pacquiao appears on screen warming up, and Ma makes the bracelets on her hand jingle with her pointing. She leaves to find her Pacquiao jacket. Jessica Sanchez, a half-Filipino "American Idol" contestant, sings the U.S. and Filipino national anthems, and the women joke about her nails. Santos hums along. Finally, the announcer lays out the stakes for the fight: "When the dust settles, is it the end or rebirth of an era?"

That gets everyone riled up, and bellows of "Let's go!" and "C'mon, Manny!" fill the house.

When the first round begins, you can keep score by listening to Ma: staccato cries of "Ai! Ai! Ai!" and "Not in the corner, not in the corner!" when Pacquiao is getting hit, and an exultant "Ooh! Yesss, yes, do it, Manny!" when Pacquiao's punches are landing.

Both rooms explode when Pacquiao lands his first big combination. Rios has a habit of shaking his head and smirking at his opponents after they land a punch to show he is unhurt.

In the sixth round, Rios starts to bleed above the eye. In the seventh, announcers remark on how Pacquiao has begun to build momentum. The ninth and 10th rounds are tense. Plastic spoons freeze mid-scoop in bowls of guinataan, coconut milk soup. Plates heaped with cooling pork ribs are ignored.

Pacquiao is landing more punches and winning more rounds than his opponent, but it's becoming clear the fight won't be decided by a knockout. There is some dark muttering about the controversies surrounding recent judging decisions in boxing. The fight ends in the 12th round.

As they await the judge's decision, it is silent in the Ross home for the first time all night. The television shows Pacquiao kneeling in prayer in the corner of the ring.

Then both groups erupt in a hooting crescendo of delight. It's a unanimous decision for Pacquiao.

"He's back, yes! I can bring out my Pacquiao gear again," Andrew Ma says. "Though it would have been good to get a knockout, for the typhoon victims."

Agnes Ma heaves a sigh of relief.

"Thank God," she says. "Thank God he won again."

The younger viewers take out their phones and make Instagram pictures of Pacquiao's victory speech. Everyone heads to the dining room to eat more. Their laughter is a little louder. They go for seconds on dessert. Ma and a few of the women break into Filipino Christmas carols, rolling with laughter. She counts the money they raised: $107. It's not much, but it's a start, she says.

"We're back, baby," Ma says. "Manny is always our Filipino hope."


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Man found after missing 4 days says he was held prisoner

Written By kolimtiga on Sabtu, 23 November 2013 | 12.56

The mystery began four days ago when Darwin Vela took his chocolate Labrador for a walk in the West Adams district. Minutes later, Vela's fiancee found the dog whimpering outside with blood on his leash and no sign of the 22-year-old man.

Police began looking in vain for Vela, who was set to testify Thursday in the case of a convicted felon facing a "third-strike" conviction for allegedly breaking into the home of Nicolas Cage's ex-girlfriend. Thursday came and went with no sign of Vela.

Then Friday, Vela emerged on the Westside. He flagged down a motorist, who alerted police. Los Angeles police Lt. Julian Melendez said Vela told investigators he had been abducted and held prisoner for three days. Vela suffered some injuries and was treated by paramedics, he added.

Prosecutors confirmed Friday that Vela and his fiancee were key witnesses against Ricardo Orozco, who allegedly stole computers and other items from the home of Cage's ex-girlfriend, Christina Fulton, in August. But officials would not speculate on whether Vela's disappearance was tied to the case.

Vela's fiancee Kelly McLaren said the couple witnessed the break-in and confirmed they were scheduled to testify.

"Without us, there isn't a case," she said.

McLaren took the stand Thursday but invoked her 5th Amendment right not to testify, said Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison.

But a police detective took the stand and discussed an encounter involving Orozco, Vela, McLaren and an attorney who has represented actor Charlie Sheen, Robison said.

The detective said that before the break-in, Orozco, Vela and McLaren met with the attorney and told him they knew of a sex tape involving Sheen, Robison said. They said they did not have the tape, the detective testified, and the attorney told them he would talk only to someone who had it.

Robison said the alleged sex tape has not materialized, and officials question whether it even exists.

McLaren declined Friday to comment on the detective's testimony, saying she was not in the courtroom at the time and did not hear it.

The search for Vela began Tuesday night when McLaren — who skipped the couple's usual walk — found their dog outside.

"When I came out, I heard the dog crying," she said. "He was outside alone and Darwin wasn't there."

The 90-pound Lab was "cowering," McLaren said. When she noticed the blood on his leash, she called 911 "right away."

Officers combed the neighborhood with a helicopter and bloodhound, and although the dog briefly picked up Vela's scent, police found no sign of him. His wallet, keys and cellphone were left behind, McLaren said.

McLaren said her fiance was "not the type of person" to disappear without notice.



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Two convicted in 2010 marijuana shop murder

The fact that his brother was killed in a robbery — over marijuana — is something Steven Butcher can't seem to wrap his mind around. There's a possibility he never will.

But this week may have been a step forward as Butcher, 23, received a one-word text from his mother about the 2010 execution-style killing of his brother Matthew Butcher: Guilty.

Daniel Deshawn Hinton, 31, and Raymond Lemone Easter, 27, were found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder and premeditated attempted murder with special circumstances, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Hinton and Easter could be sentenced Jan. 10 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On June 24, 2010, 27-year-old Matthew Butcher was working at Higher Path Holistic Care about 4:15 p.m. when four people entered. At gunpoint, they ordered Butcher and a security guard to lie face down on the ground as they ransacked the dispensary for marijuana and money, according to an account given to police by the guard, who survived.

Though Butcher and the guard did not resist, the attackers shot them, then removed the videotape from the shop's surveillance system. The Times has inquired about the status of other suspects. District attorney's officials said they have no information on them and police officials did not respond.

The slaying came hours before another killing at a marijuana dispensary five miles away. Ila Ali Packman, 39, was found dead from an apparent stabbing inside Hollywood Holistic II on North El Centro Avenue. The killings were unrelated but ignited fear among medical marijuana advocates.

Steven Butcher said the weeks-long trial was difficult for his family.

"It was tough being in the same room as those guys, looking at them," he said.

Butcher attended most of the trial and heard testimony from various people, including detectives, the coroner and the security guard who was shot and crawled through glass to get out of the store alive.

Butcher said the conviction will not necessarily bring closure because his brother — described as a laid-back computer geek — is still gone.

"It forever changed our family," Butcher said. "Things will never be the same."

His mother, Julie Butcher, a well-known labor leader, said in a newsletter for the nonprofit Matt Butcher Memorial Foundation that she watched the jury every day.

She said after the trial a juror held her and said, "It was our pleasure."


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Autopsy report reveals TSA agent shot 12 times in LAX attack

A Transportation Security Administration officer killed at Los Angeles International Airport during a rampage three weeks ago was shot 12 times, with bullets piercing organs, grazing his heart and severing a major artery, according to a final autopsy report released Friday.

Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, died within two to five minutes of the Nov. 1 attack inside Terminal 3. The gunman, identified by authorities as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, targeted TSA agents during the shooting, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said earlier this week.

Hernandez, a married father of two from Porter Ranch, was shot through his right arm, torso, waist, hip, back, buttock and groin by the gunman's semiautomatic rifle, according to the 22-page autopsy report. Many of the shots were fired into the back of the unarmed agent, who became the nation's first TSA officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Authorities say Ciancia entered the terminal about 9:30 a.m., pulled his rifle out of a bag and fired at Hernandez. The gunman walked up an escalator, then returned to shoot Hernandez again, U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte has said.

The coroner's report described extensive injuries to many of Hernandez's vital internal organs. The autopsy noted Hernandez suffered "a complete transection of the abdominal aorta distal to superior mesenteric artery" and extensive damage to his spinal cord.

Hernandez suffered 16 wounds to his gastrointestinal tract. Many of the rounds lodged in his body, the report noted. Medical examiners recovered 40 bullet fragments, which were given to the FBI as evidence, according to the report.

Two other TSA officers and a schoolteacher were wounded before Ciancia was shot and critically wounded by two airport police officers.

In Ciancia's possessions, FBI agents recovered a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber rifle as well as notes expressing his hatred for the TSA and the government in general.

Ciancia was released Monday from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. He faces federal charges of murder of a federal officer and committing a violent act at an international airport. If convicted, Ciancia, a New Jersey native living in Los Angeles, could face the death penalty.



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Man convicted in revenge slayings of ex-girlfriend's father, sister

A 29-year-old Van Nuys man was convicted Friday of killing his ex-girlfriend's father and sister and setting fire to their Anaheim Hills mansion in a night of violence that authorities said was driven by revenge.

Iftekhar Murtaza lowered his head several times as the verdicts were read and appeared to cry. Jurors will now decide whether he should be sentenced to death.

Murtaza was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend's father, Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and sister, Karishma Dhanak, 20, in May 2007. Their burned bodies were found in a secluded area near UC Irvine.

The ex-girlfriend's mother was found critically wounded on a neighbor's lawn. She was in a coma for weeks, but has survived.

"We're very pleased with the verdicts," Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Gundy said after the hearing.

Murtaza's attorney declined to comment as he walked his client's parents from the courthouse.

On the witness stand, the former girlfriend's mother, Leela Dhanak, identified Murtaza as the man who slashed her throat and stomach with a knife.

Shayona Dhanak, the ex-girlfriend and only family member not at home during the attack, testified that her parents didn't approve of her then-boyfriend. She said she decided to break up with him because he was overly possessive, but told him it was because her parents were devout Hindus and he was Muslim — an excuse she said she hoped would make the breakup easier.

Murtaza instead concocted a plan to kill the family, even trying to hire Russian hit men to pull off the job, hoping that in the tragedy his former girlfriend would turn to him for comfort. He ended up carrying out the murders with a friend, who was convicted in an earlier trial.

The autopsy showed that Jayprakash Dhanak had been stabbed 29 times but died as a result of a crushing injury to the back of his skull. Karishma Dhanak had a large gash on her throat and bled to death, evidence showed

On the witness stand, Murtaza tried to pin the slayings on the work of others, including the son of singer Bobby Brown, whose name had never previously been mentioned in the case.

Jurors are expected to return Dec. 2 for opening statements in the penalty phase.


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