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Firefighter Dies Battling Northern California Wildfire

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday for Northern California counties hit by wildfires, and officials announced that a U.S. Forest Service firefighter had died on the front lines in Modoc County.

David Ruhl, a South Dakota firefighter who had been working in California for several weeks, died Thursday while fighting the Frog fire, according to a statement on InciWeb. Few details were immediately provided, but the statement said Ruhl’s body was found by search and rescue personnel.

“This loss of life is tragic and heartbreaking,” Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said in the statement. “Please keep the family and all of our Forest Service employees in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Officials are investigating how Ruhl died.

Late Friday, Brown issued a statement from himself and wife, Anne, saying they “were saddened to learn of the tragic death” of Ruhl, “who left his home state to help protect one of California’s majestic forests…. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues with the U.S. Forest Service.”

The Frog fire has burned 800 acres near Adin, California, in the northeast corner of the state.

The U.S. Forest Service said it was lowering its flags to half-staff in Ruhl’s memory. The announcement came shortly after Brown declared the state of emergency.

“California’s severe drought and extreme weather have turned much of the state into a tinderbox,” Brown said in a statement. “Our courageous firefighters are on the front lines and we’ll do everything we can to help them.”

The declaration will allow faster deployment of resources to the fire zones, including the National Guard, if that is deemed necessary.

The state of emergency came as a fast-moving fire north of Napa Valley continued to grow Friday and new evacuations were ordered for residents in a nearby rural town, authorities said.

The Rocky fire grew to 18,000 acres and was 5 percent contained, according to a tweet from Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department issued a mandatory evacuation for Jerusalem Valley residents before 10 a.m., after the blaze moved north and jumped a road.

About 650 residents have fled their homes since the blaze began Wednesday afternoon.

Water-dropping aircraft and firefighters on the ground have been working around the clock to douse the flames and dig a containment line around the blaze, according to Cal Fire. The Rocky fire began at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday near Morgan Valley and Rocky Creek roads, 62 miles north of Napa, and traveled quickly, spreading into heavy brush and woodlands, Cal Fire said.

Firefighters were still assessing the damage caused by the massive blaze, but officials said the flames have so far destroyed three structures and multiple outbuildings.

The blaze is one of 18 large wildfires burning in California, requiring the deployment of nearly 8,000 firefighters.

In response to the wildfires, the National Guard mobilized nine helicopters to help state firefighters. Authorities are worried that thunderstorms forecast for the weekend could trigger dry-lightning strikes and more blazes.

On Thursday, a fire swept through an Isleton mobile home park, destroying seven mobile homes and forcing residents to flee. A small vegetation fire in the Solano County delta town got out of control and reached the homes before firefighters could quell the flames.

“We don’t have a hydrant system out here, so once our apparatus runs out of water, we have to rely on water from river drafting, which takes up a little bit of effort setting that up,” Assistant Chief of the River Delta Fire Department Jessie Rosewall told Fox 40.

Photo: Los Angeles county firefighters battle wild land fire in Wrightwood, California, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Gene Blevins 

Drought Making California’s Air Quality Worse, American Lung Association Says

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Despite increasingly aggressive clean air and fuel standards, years of drought are taking a toll on California’s air quality, the American Lung Association says in a new report.

The portion of California’s Central Valley from Fresno to Madera was the most polluted region in the nation on any given day in 2013 with microscopic particulates, or soot, thanks in large part to the changing climate and drought, according to an annual report on air quality released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.

“Continuing drought and heat may have increased dust, grass fires, and wildfires” that have hurt the Central Valley’s air quality in short-term particle pollution, the report stated. “The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the West, where the heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high-particle days.”

The report evaluated metropolitan areas based on recorded levels of ozone, the main ingredient in smog, and also measured particles, or soot, that tend to build up in colder, winter months. It looked at the annual average for cities and the worst on average in a 24-hour period. The report used data gathered between 2011 and 2013.

In both time frames, a swath of California’s Central Valley topped the rankings for unhealthy particulate pollution. The Fresno-to-Madera region was the most polluted year-round for the second year in a row and the worst in a 24-hour cycle.

Bakersfield was ranked second, the area from Visalia to Hanford was third and the area from Modesto to Merced was fourth for short-term and annual particle pollution.

Los Angeles County actually performed worse in the 24-hour rankings this year than it did the previous year, the report noted.

Despite great strides in recent years, L.A. County again topped the nation’s list of metropolitan areas with the worst smog for 2013, according to the report.

L.A. County has ranked the worst for smog among metropolitan areas in all but one of the association’s 16 reports. Despite the high rank, the report said the city “exemplified” progress in reducing smog.

Its three-year average for 2011-13 was its best since the report began and showed a one-third reduction in the number of unhealthy air days.

Ranking fifth on the list of smog-polluted areas nationally, according to the report, was the area from Sacramento to Roseville.

Smog forms in warm, sunny weather with little wind. More than 138 million people, or 44 percent of the nation, live in areas with unhealthy air, according to the report.

Still, the situation has improved over the last ten years.

“Even the more polluted cities had significantly fewer unhealthy ozone days than they had a decade ago,” the report states.

Poor air quality can most adversely affect the young and old, those with lung disease and asthma, heart disease and diabetes.

The report said that the Environmental Protection Agency’s current ozone air quality standards are “woefully inadequate” and called for the government to adopt stricter standards proposed by the EPA last year.

Photo: Ben Amstutz via Flickr

Model Accuses Cosby Of Sex Assault; ‘Power In Numbers,’ Lawyer Says

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Facing a wall of cameras outside Los Angeles police headquarters Wednesday, a model and her attorney accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault at a Playboy Mansion party in 2008, possibly the first claim among a host of allegations against the comedian that could be criminally prosecuted.

Chloe Goins, 24, said that during a “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-themed party at the Playboy Mansion seven years ago, Cosby drugged her drink and she passed out, and that when she regained consciousness later he was on top of her. She told the Daily Mail that Cosby was pleasuring himself and licking her toes.

Goins was 18 at the time of the alleged assault, said her attorney, Spencer T. Kuvin. Though Cosby faces accusations of sexual assault by more than 20 other women dating back 40 years, Goins’ claim is the first that could fall within California’s statute of limitations.

Kuvin said his client had not been back to the mansion since or spoken with Cosby. He said she was afraid to come forward because of Cosby’s fame.

“At some point, when a young lady becomes abused, until there are others that come out and support what they have to say, it’s a very scary thing,” Kuvin said. “Especially when you’re one person against an incredibly rich and powerful man.

“There’s power in numbers,” he added. “Mr. Cosby should and will be held accountable for what he’s done.”

Cosby’s attorney, Martin D. Singer, was not immediately available for comment. The entertainer has denied past accusations.

Despite the repeated allegations, Cosby has continued performing in a comedy tour.

Last week, the 77-year-old comedian joked while performing in Canada that a woman in the audience had to “be careful drinking around me,” when she got up to get a refreshment. Most, if not all, of the allegations against Cosby involve him allegedly drugging a woman’s drink before assaulting her.

Photo: Chloe Goins walks out of LAPD headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, after delivering a statement alleging that she was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby at the Playboy Mansion in 2008. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Southern California Storm Breaks Records; Flood Watches In Effect

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — A record-setting storm covering Southern California was expected to begin tapering off Wednesday after triggering dozens of evacuations and putting city crews in Ventura and Los Angeles counties on alert for potential mudslides.

“Yesterday we had six straight hours of rain, it wasn’t heavy but it was consistent. Today will be more showery,” said Curt Kaplan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The storm that began passing over the region Tuesday was the biggest storm of the rain season that began July 1, forecasters said. The record for Dec. 2 rain was eclipsed in several locations. It rained 1.21 inches downtown, 1.14 inches in Lancaster and 2.14 inches at Santa Barbara Airport, all breaking records set in the 1960s, according to the weather service.

The mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura counties saw 3.5 inches and 4.5 inches of rain, respectively. The downpour was heavy enough that 75 homes in Camarillo were placed under mandatory evacuations Tuesday while swaths of Glendora and Azusa residents, among others, prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

“This is life up here,” Glendora resident David Jones said Tuesday. “As long as everyone is walking at the end of the day, the houses and all that stuff can be rebuilt.”

Though Wednesday’s rain is expected to be more sporadic, it will be consistent enough that forecasters have kept flash flood watches in place for foothill residents, Kaplan said.

The storm left Northern California sopping too.

“Thus far, we’re at about 11th in the wettest one-day period in the last eight or nine years,” said forecaster Bob Benjamin of the National Weather Service’s Monterey office. “It’s likely the wettest period thus far this rain season, and quite possibly this calendar year.”

The rain is the second of back-to-back storms to hit Southern California. Despite the recent wet weather, it’s relatively insignificant when it comes to relieving the state from its historic drought.

“It took us three years to get in the drought, it’s going to take a lot to get out of it,” Kaplan said. “We’re going to need a lot more of these kinds of rains. The only good thing — it’ll help moisten fuels in drought-hit areas where there’s wildfires.”

Photo: Silverado Canyon, Calif., residents Cathy Panza, right, and Jana Brown walk in the rain and look out for rock and mud slides on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. Mudslide concerns are widespread in Silverado Canyon, where almost 1,000 acres burned in September. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

California’s Air Tanker Fleet Grounded After Deadly Yosemite Crash

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

All of California’s 22 S-2T air tankers have been grounded after one of the aircraft crashed while fighting a wildfire in Yosemite National Park, killing the sole pilot.
Most of the tankers haven’t been in use recently, as the large wildfires that raced across the central and northern parts of the state this summer have largely been brought under control. But the fleet will remain grounded until deemed safe by officials, Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Wednesday.
California is one of a handful of states to maintain a fleet of firefighting planes. The S-2T tankers, which can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant, are essentially old Navy aircraft that were retrofitted “from nose to tail,” including with turbine prop engines that were added in the 1990s, he said.
The tanker that crashed Tuesday was among a handful of aircraft fighting the 130-acre Dog Rock fire, which broke out that afternoon on El Portal Road between the Yosemite’s boundary and the Arch Rock entrance station, officials said.
Debris from the crash was scattered on Highway 140, which was closed because of the blaze.
“This is obviously a very tragic situation, this pilot was one of our family,” Berlant said.
The pilot’s family has requested his name not be released until all immediate family has been notified, officials said.
Berlant said the pilot worked for DynCorp International, which also maintains Cal Fire’s planes.
A representative for DynCorp reached by The LA Times early Wednesday had no immediate comment.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, but it was clear and not too windy at the time the crash, Berlant said.
A California Highway Patrol officer who witnessed the explosion told the Associated Press that the air tanker appeared to hit a canyon wall while attempting to make a drop.
“I heard a large explosion, I looked up on the steep canyon wall and saw aircraft debris was actually raining down the side of the mountain after the impact,” said CHP Sgt. Chris Michael, who was stopping traffic along the highway when the plane went down.
“It hit the steep side of the canyon wall,” he added. “It appeared from the direction he was going, he was trying to make a drop down the side of the canyon when he hit the canyon wall.”
By Tuesday night, rescuers had climbed to the wreckage, which was perched on a 2,500-foot escarpment near El Portal.
Michael said pieces of the aircraft landed on the highway and came close to hitting fire crews on the ground nearby.
“It most definitely did disintegrate on impact,” he said. “It was nothing. I didn’t see anything but small pieces.”
Staff writers Adolfo Flores and Julie Cart contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Mike Mcmillan

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Tropical Storm Simon Sending Big Waves To California Beaches

LOS ANGELES — Tropical Storm Simon off Baja Mexico is creating high surf along California beaches, prompting warnings of strong rip currents and possible coastal flooding.
The National Weather Service issued a warning Monday for high surf and strong rip currents along beaches from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara counties as Tropical Storm Simon weakens and whips its way toward Baja, Mexico.
Waves as high as 8 feet could slam into the coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara counties, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a high surf advisory for Monday. Long Beach could see “minor coastal flooding and beach erosion” through Tuesday night.
Though Simon has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, and is expected to continue to weaken as it crawls toward land across cooler water, its winds are forecast to still send high tides, strong currents and dangerous “sneaker waves” to Zuma and Malibu beaches, forecasters warned.
The advisory is just the latest in what has become a particularly damaging summer for Southern California’s coastline. A year of strong Pacific storms has torn apart the seafloor along the coast, displacing huge swaths of underwater coastline, which has created stronger rip currents and tides than normal.
L.A. County’s coastline usually sees much of its sand replenished during the summer due to generous tides, while winter storms typically erode beaches. This year, that hasn’t happened.
At the same time, a series of heat waves over the past few months has lured millions of beach goers into the water, resulting in lifeguards having to rescue thousands more swimmers than usual because of the dangerous ocean conditions.

AFP Photo/Jason Merritt

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California Gov. Brown Declares State Of Emergency As Wildfires Rage

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for two Northern California counties overwhelmed by wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes.

The emergency declarations cover El Dorado and Siskiyou counties, which have been ravaged by the King and Boles fires, respectively.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday granted a request for aid that can cover up to 75 percent of the state’s costs to fight the King fire; federal aid already had been approved for the Boles fire, as well as the Courtney fire in Madera County.

Combined, the three fires have burned nearly 100,000 acres.

The most destructive in terms of damage to property has been the Boles fire, which erupted late Monday and quickly tore through the logging town of Weed, just west of Mt. Shasta. The fire damaged or destroyed more than 150 structures, including churches, a library, and the town’s sawmill. About 2,000 homes and other buildings remain threatened by the blaze, which was 65 percent contained Thursday.

The fast-moving King fire in El Dorado County, meanwhile, exploded in size overnight, from 27,930 acres to nearly 71,000 acres. More than 2,000 homes and 1,500 other buildings were threatened by the blaze, which was just 5 percent contained as of Thursday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 3,300 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze.

In Madera County, the 320-acre Courtney fire has destroyed 30 homes, 19 outbuildings, and 13 vehicles. It was 70 percent contained as of Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, the state’s largest fire continues to be the Happy Camp Complex fire in Klamath National Forest. The fire, which began Aug. 12 and has burned more than 125,000 acres, is 68 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

That blaze is made up of 15 fires, all of which were sparked by lightning.

Photo: Steve Rhodes via Flickr

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Yosemite Wildfire Crews Also Battling Bears On Fire Lines

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

Crews battling a wildfire in Yosemite National Park have had to deal with steep terrain, dense forest brush, oppressive heat, and now, bears.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, bears have become “a major issue with fire crew safety” in camps and along the fire line.

“Extensive measures are being taken not to attract bears to the food and other supplies,” officials said in a recent update posted online. Trash, they added, is being backhauled daily.

Bears in Yosemite are notoriously resourceful at getting their paws on visitors’ food. Trash at campsites is placed in bear-proof metal bins fastened with carabiners, while food has to be stored in thick metal lockers fastened with a steel rod because the animals have figured out how to break into less-secure containers.

It’s just another wrinkle in firefighters’ effort to knock down the Meadow fire, which believed to have been ignited by lightning in mid-July. For weeks the fire went undetected, quietly burning about 20 acres in a remote section of wilderness. It was eventually discovered in mid-August, but was not considered a danger until Sunday, when strong winds fueled it to some 2,600 acres in a single day.

Until Thursday, many of the park’s most popular areas, including Little Yosemite Valley and the Half Dome trail, were cut off. Hikers who had secured one of the exclusive permits to climb the 8,800-foot Half Dome peak were given refunds.

But in the last couple of days, firefighters have begun to get the upper hand on the blaze, which has now burned about 4,900 acres. The fire is 50 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

No injuries have been reported.

Crews have been using the park’s granite barriers to its advantage and have slowed the fire’s spread west, which the Forest Service noted was the park’s top priority because of Half Dome.

Another sign of progress: Half Dome climbers should be able to start their ascent up the steel cables again on Saturday. Access to Little Yosemite Valley, meanwhile, has been reopened.

AFP Photo/Mike Mcmillan

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Yosemite Wildfire That Prompted Air Evacuations Triples In Size

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A wildfire in Yosemite National Park that prompted authorities to airlift hikers out of harm’s way has tripled in size, growing to nearly 2,600 acres as of Monday morning.

Several water-dropping helicopters and airplanes were assisting hundreds of firefighters on the ground as the Meadow fire burns near Half Dome peak and Merced Lake, said park ranger Scott Gediman.

There was no estimate of how contained the fire was.

The Meadow fire, believed to have been started by one of hundreds of lightning strikes last month, had been smoldering for 49 days at just under 20 acres.

Park officials had been letting it burn to restore the area’s natural fire patterns, and given its high elevation (8,000 feet) and slow pace, there was no threat to public safety, officials said.

But when winds pushed the flames into bone-dry brush near hiking trails on Sunday, the fire exploded and ended up cutting off dozens of mountain climbers and hikers from park exits. Some 40 Half Dome hikers had to be evacuated and others were airlifted out, officials said.

East of the park in Mariposa County, fire crews gained the upper hand on the Bridge fire, which has burned about 300 acres and was 70 percent contained. At least 700 homes remained threatened by the fire, but officials have lifted evacuation orders for homeowners, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

And in Siskiyou County in Northern California, the Happy Camp Complex fire has grown to 99,200 acres as it pushes west. The wildfire, currently the biggest in California, was 30 percent contained.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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Drone Surprises Jetliner Pilot At LAX; Owner Sought In Investigation

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A drone spotted earlier this month by a Canadian jetliner pilot near Los Angeles International Airport has become the subject of an investigation.

On Aug. 4, Los Angeles police said, the personal drone was spotted by the jetliner pilot as the remote-controlled craft was hovering about 10 miles east of LAX at 4,000 feet.

That would place it at an altitude outside Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for hobbyists’ drones and also within the airport’s Class B airspace, where aircraft need to have a transponder and two-way communication with air traffic controllers, federal officials said.

Last year, the FAA restricted drones from coming within five miles of airports.

The agency cited recent “reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people” in its announcement of the policy shift, which comes as federal officials are trying to determine how to regulate private unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace.

Los Angeles police learned of the drone when the airline pilot asked air traffic controllers if it was a police drone. The LAPD’s two drones are locked away in a federal building and have not been used.

Officials said the incident highlights concerns that better regulations are needed for the drones.

“Everyone is going to suffer because of a reckless pilot,” said LAPD Air Support Capt. Gary Walters. “You don’t expect to see one at 1,000 feet when you’re doing 130 mph going to an emergency call to the Coliseum.”

Police Department representatives are talking with FAA officials and local lawmakers about what can be done to bring existing laws up to date so they apply to drones, officials said.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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Wildfire Near Yosemite National Park Prompts Thousands Of Evacuations

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

Out-of-control wildfire burning near Yosemite has triggered thousands of evacuation orders.

A wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park is threatening 500 homes, has triggered 13,000 evacuation orders, and prompted the Madera County sheriff to declare a local emergency.

The fast-moving Junction fire had burned 1,200 acres and was 0 percent contained overnight, prompting local school officials to close five campuses Tuesday.

Authorities have also closed California 41 leading in and out of Yosemite National Forest and have sent out an additional 2,500 phone calls warning residents they may have to leave if the fire spreads in their direction.

The fire is just one of several blazes raging across California’s parched forests that have state and federal officials on constant alert for the latest flare-up.

In Kern County, Calif., the Way fire had burned through buildings and 3,000 acres after igniting Monday afternoon in Wofford Heights north of California 155. Crews are trying to control the blaze as it crawls through steep terrain and bone-dry vegetation. Evacuation orders were issued Monday for residents among half a dozen Wofford Height neighborhoods.

And in the hills above Azusa, the Tecolote fire in the Angeles National Forest was 60 percent contained Monday after burning approximately 274 acres, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

The blaze was burning in steep, rugged terrain away from homes, said fire officials. California 39 at East Fork was open only to residents.

AFP Photo/Mike Mcmillan

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Northern California Wildfire Overruns Firefighters, Injures Eight

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

A wildfire that overran firefighters in Northern California over the weekend, injuring eight, continued to rage out of control into Monday after forcing the evacuations of several Mendocino County mountain communities.

The Lodge fire was just 35 percent contained after burning roughly 8,700 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire, which broke through firefighters’ eastern flank, has been burning through bone-dry timber in inaccessible, rugged hillsides where flames can make huge runs against firefighters.

Smoke has also been settling in the Ukiah Valley, prompting air-quality warnings.

From Friday night to Saturday the fire exploded across more than 2,200 acres and injured eight firefighters, CalFire reported. Lightning from thunderstorms that have passed over the region in recent days have also been triggering random fires, further straining firefighting resources.

Residents east of Brush Mountain near Highway 101 remained under evacuation orders Monday morning.

The blaze was one of many crews were fighting across the region. More than 1,200 firefighters remained in Siskiyou County battling the July Complex fire — a series of blazes that started with lightning strikes Aug. 2 and have burned through more than 15,000 acres. The fire was just 27 percent contained Monday morning and several dozen residents remain evacuated.

More than 134,000 acres have burned across Northern California since late July.

AFP Photo/Mike Mcmillan

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Men Face Jail Time For Stealing Part Of Paul Walker’s Crashed Porsche

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Two men have pleaded no contest to stealing the roof panel from a Porsche Carrera GT that “Fast and Furious” actor Paul Walker was riding in when he died in a fiery crash last year in Santa Clarita.

Jameson Brooks Witty, 18, and Anthony Edward Janow, 26, face up to six months in jail on misdemeanor charges of destroying evidence and resisting or delaying a police officer. Janow also pleaded no contest to felony grand theft, Witty to misdemeanor grand theft.

Authorities say that on the night of Nov. 30, the pair stole the roof panel from a tow truck carrying the destroyed Porsche away from the crash site — even after a sheriff’s deputy told them that they couldn’t take any vehicle parts.

The tow truck driver — who had been stopped at a red light when the theft occurred — reported it to authorities, officials said. Search warrants were served, and investigators found some of the parts at a home in Canyon Country.

A photo posted to an Instagram account for @jamesonwitty showed what the user claimed to be a piece of the Porsche from the crash: “Piece of Paul walkers car, took it off a tow truck at a stop light … #paulwalker #rip #comeup.”

A second message posted on the same account offered an apology, in which the car enthusiast said he took the roof to make a memorial out of it.

“Paul was a childhood idol to me and many. At the time I was not thinking about the consequences it could have, I never wanted it to be like this. I wasn’t going to sell the piece to make a profit,” the message reads. “Nobody in this world is perfect, we all make mistakes. Some bigger than others.”

Walker, 40, died Nov. 30 from a combination of traumatic injuries and burns after the Porsche crashed into a light pole in Santa Clarita and erupted in flames. Roger Rodas, 38, Walker’s financial adviser and friend, was behind the wheel of the high-performance 2005 Porsche when it crashed. He was killed by the impact alone, a medical examiner concluded.

Photo via WikiCommons

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California Storm: Crews Work To Clear 4 Walls Of Mud That Cut Off Town

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of residents in Forest Falls in San Bernardino County remained stranded Monday morning as crews worked to clear the last of four mud walls caused by flash floods over the weekend that cut the town off.

“It’s like somebody threw a huge mud ball on the town and it’s just sitting there,” said San Bernardino County firefighter Ryan Beckers. “It’s one road in, one road out.”

On Sunday, a storm that hovered over Mount Baldy, Forest Falls, and a few other communities managed to pour several inches of rain onto the area, triggering mudslides and overflowing creeks and washes that sent campers and locals running for higher ground.

In Forest Falls, mudslides as high as 10 feet cut across Valley of the Falls Drive, which connects the town to Highway 38. Even when rain doesn’t fall directly onto the secluded town, its placement next to a creek and at the foot of three mountain peaks makes it susceptible to floods and slides, Beckers said.

Dozens of homes sustained damage, mostly from water and mud, but determining the severity of the damage to each home and final costs to the community could be days away, officials said.

In the history of floods to the area, “this was one of the bigger ones,” Beckers said.

At least one car was overturned, but no one was inside. Several power poles were tipped over and put slack into power lines, forcing utility workers to cut power to the lines so cleanup crews could clear the debris.

In terms of the potential for disaster, Beckers said they counted the community’s response to Sunday’s downpour a success. Locals were mostly prepared and camp employees kept visitors from panicking, he said.

Still, the flash flooding killed one person on Mount Baldy when his vehicle spilled off a mountain road and into a creek. The man was identified Monday as 48-year-old Joo Hwan Lee of El Segundo, Calif.

On Monday, crews were sweeping through the mountain communities to assess the damage. At Mount Baldy, one home suffered major damage and four sustained moderate damage, said San Bernardino County firefighter Chris Prater.

Several propane tanks were also dislodged and leaked fuel but were contained before any significant incident occurred, Prater said.

The thunderstorm system was expected to move out and into Central and Northern California on Monday, bringing with it the threat of lightning, which has been blamed for sparking dozens of destructive wildfires in recent weeks.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Woman Behind Porcelain Dolls Scare Reportedly Embarrassed By Flap

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California woman told investigators she was embarrassed that her well-intentioned act of leaving porcelain dolls outside girls’ homes scared a quiet San Clemente community, a sheriff’s official said.

Over the last week, a mother whose children had grown up discreetly dropped off eight to 10 dolls on residents’ door steps — each them bearing a resemblance to a little girl living in the home. But the ornate dolls, left without any written message, unnerved residents.

“Because her intentions were good, she felt embarrassed at the fear she instilled in the community,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock. “She just thought she was being nice.”

Because the woman’s children had outgrown playing with dolls, she elected to give them away, Hallock said.

“When she was deciding which dolls to give to which girls, she did make a conscious decision that she thought certain dolls resembled certain girls,” Hallock said.

Due to the fact there was no note attached to the dolls, all that residents knew was that someone for some reason had left a doll that looks like their daughter on their front door step without being seen, which gave off a “creepy” vibe, Hallock told City News Service.

Investigators soon discovered a common thread among the homeowners who received the dolls: They attended the same church. It wasn’t long before they were able to track down the woman and contact her.

Authorities have declined to release the woman’s name.

Parents, many of whom know the woman through the church, were relieved.

“I think everyone was so worked up and concerned that when they found out it was her being kind, most people just breathed a sigh of relief,” Hallock said.

Even though there was no criminal aspect to the doll drop-offs, Hallock said the sheriff’s department dedicated resources to the case as if it were because of the fear it created.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Two Men Accused Of Smoking Heroin In Chuck E. Cheese Restroom

By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

Two men were arrested on suspicion of smoking heroin inside a Chuck E. Cheese bathroom in Costa Mesa, Calif., earlier this week.

Police arrested Colin Zborowski, 28, and Daniel Lubach, 27, Tuesday night after another patron called police and reported that two men may be inside the restroom doing drugs, according to Costa Mesa police.

When officers arrived, they found Zborowski and Lubach inside a stall smoking, officials said.

The pair were “a couple of knuckleheads,” who, for some reason, chose to meet with their heroin dealer at Chuck E. Cheese and opted to smoke it in the restaurant’s bathroom, said Sgt. Patrick Wessel.

Zborowski was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of a narcotic and two misdemeanors of drug paraphernalia, as well as being under the influence of a controlled substance. He was booked into Orange County jail and posted $20,000 bail late Thursday.

Lubach was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance and was released with a notice to appear in court at a later date.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Autistic Boy, 11, Allegedly Kept In Cage; Parents Arrested

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Anaheim police arrested two parents Tuesday night who they say kept their 11-year-old autistic son in a cage, possibly in an effort to control his violent outbursts, officials said.

The parents were arrested after child protective services and police were dispatched to their home on a tip that a boy there was being kept in a large dog kennel, said police Lt. Bob Dunn.

“There’s varied reports on how long this was going on,” Dunn said.

The identities of the parents were not immediately available and Dunn said it was unclear who called in the tip about the boy.

Child protective services went to the home about 6:15 p.m., followed soon after by police. When officers went inside, they found the cage. Inside it was a mattress and other amenities, Dunn said.

The boy is unable to communicate and has violent episodes, Dunn said. The child’s outbursts have grown more violent over the years and investigators learned his parents may have kept him in the cage in an effort to control him.

The cage was big enough that the boy wasn’t forced into an “unnatural position,” Dunn said.

Other than the cage, there was no other signs of potential abuse, Dunn said, adding that the boy was well nourished and had no visible injuries. He was taken to a local hospital to ensure he was physically OK.

The boy also has a younger brother and sister.

Other relatives live in the home along with a second family that’s renting a room, Dunn said. The second family is out of town and police are trying to reach them so they can be interviewed.
In the meantime, investigators were expected to begin interviewing neighbors Wednesday.

The parents have been booked on suspicion of felony child endangerment and false imprisonment. The boy and his two siblings are now in the custody of child protective services.

Investigators, meanwhile, are working on getting translators so they can interview the parents, who are of Vietnamese descent, Dunn said.

Photo: x1klima via Flickr

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