Sewage spill closes bay water in Huntington Harbour

HUNTINGTON BEACH — All of the Huntington Harbour bay water area in Huntington Beach is closed until further notice to swimming, surfing and diving due to a sewage spill, officials announced Monday night.

The spill was caused by a cracked force main, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Environmental Health Division. The date the main cracked was not immediately disclosed.

The affected area will remain closed until future tests of water quality meet acceptable standards, the agency said.

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Anaheim man, formerly a Long Beach physician assistant, gets 18 months for illegal distribution of narcotics

LOS ANGELES — A former Long Beach physician assistant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months behind bars and a year of home confinement for diverting dangerous narcotics to the black market.

Gabriel Hernandez, 59, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christine Snyder to pay a $13,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hernandez, who worked at a Long Beach pain management clinic known as Vortex Wellness & Aesthetics, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of distributing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose.

The Anaheim man was arrested in February 2019 as part of an investigation codenamed Hypocritical Oath, a yearlong U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led probe targeting doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinic operators suspected of illegally providing controlled substances to so-called patients and black market customers in violation of their oaths to do no harm.

Over a two-year period that ended in November 2018, Hernandez prescribed nearly 6,000 controlled substances — more than half of which were for maximum-strength oxycodone, which means he was responsible for 446,000 oxycodone pills being dispensed.

Hernandez often wrote prescriptions for drug cocktails known on the street as the holy trinity — a narcotic, tranquilizer and/or muscle relaxant — which are sought by drug addicts and are particularly dangerous because of the threat of fatal overdose.

In 2017, according to records maintained by the state of California, Hernandez wrote a prescription for the three drugs to a 41-year-old man who died a week later from the combined effects of alcohol and two of the prescribed drugs, the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court states.

A San Diego pharmacist contacted investigators in late 2018 about suspicious and identical prescriptions Hernandez wrote to three people who appeared to be living in the same house more than a hundred miles away from the Vortex clinic.

A medical expert who reviewed data on Hernandez’s prescription history and tapes of two office visits by a law enforcement source concluded that Hernandez’s actions were “much closer to that of an illegal drug dealer than that of a physician, and the patient visits are a sham,” court papers show.

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Court panel rejects Manson follower Leslie Van Houten’s bid for release because of the coronavirus

LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court panel Wednesday rejected a bid to release former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten on her own recognizance or bail after an inmate in her prison housing unit tested positive for coronavirus.


Leslie Van Houten waits with her attorney Rich Pfeiffer before her parole board hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at the California Institution for Women in Chino.(Stan Lim, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, wrote in a new motion filed Monday that his client is now 70 years old and that “her age makes her a very high risk to succumbing to this life-threatening pandemic” although she is in “relatively good health.”

He noted in the filing that an inmate in Van Houten’s housing unit tested positive for COVID-19 and is being quarantined. He wrote in the motion that Van Houten was “not opposed to home confinement” and that she can arrange for all costs outside of prison.

Van Houten is imprisoned at the California Institution for Women in Chino.

Van Houten has been recommended for parole three times, but those recommendations have all been reversed — twice by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and once in 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In February, the defense had asked the panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal to speed up her appeal of Newsom’s decision.

Van Houten — who is serving a life prison term — was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles “Tex” Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the August 1969 killings of grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, and his 38-year-old wife, Rosemary, who were each stabbed multiple times in their Los Feliz home.

The former Monrovia High School cheerleader did not participate in the Manson family’s killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Benedict Canyon mansion the night before.

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Killer, 73, to be released from women’s prison in Chino because of coronavirus concerns

VISTA — A 73-year-old Southern California woman who has spent nearly two decades in prison for killing her husband will be released while fighting her conviction because her health may be at risk from the coronavirus if she remains behind bars, a judge ruled.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge on Monday granted an emergency plea on behalf of Jane Dorotik, whose lawyers said she was at extreme risk of getting COVID-19 because of her age, a heart condition and the close quarters of prison that made it impossible to maintain social distancing.

Dorotik was expected to be released from the California Institution for Women in Chino this week.

As of Tuesday evening, two staff members and one inmate at the prison had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dorotik was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the death of her husband, Robert. The 55-year-old was found beaten and strangled on a roadside in 2000, near the Valley Center horse ranch the couple rented. His body was discovered a day after his wife reported that he had vanished after going jogging.

Prosecutors contended that Dorotik killed him with a hammer and a rope.

However, the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent sought a new trial, contending that the police investigation was flawed, that the prosecution presented false blood and DNA evidence to the jury and that new DNA testing of the rope and the body didn’t find any link to Dorotik.

Dorotik’s lawyers filed a writ of habeus corpus challenging her detention. A hearing was scheduled earlier this month but it was sidetracked by coronavirus concerns when the court was closed to all but a few emergency matters.

Last Friday, however, the court issued a revised closure order allowing hearings like Dorotik’s to be heard, which led to Monday’s ruling.

“We argued to the court that it would truly be a tragic outcome if, just as she’s about to prove her innocence, Jane were to contract the deadly coronavirus while in prison waiting for her hearing to take place,” Paige McGrail, a student with the Project for the Innocent who has worked on the case for two years.

Dorotik was expected to stay with her sister in Los Angeles County and will have to self-quarantine for two weeks and must wear an ankle monitor, Paula Mitchell, legal director of the innocence group, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office opposed Dorotik’s release, arguing that she didn’t qualify for the unusual step of releasing her, the Union-Tribune said, citing a statement from spokesman Steve Walker.

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Coronavirus: 2 Southern California front-line workers hope to rebound after their gear is stolen

On his second night back home with his family after a month spent reporting to a growing number of people with flu-like symptoms and for some, the new coronavirus, Craig Heard, a Los Angeles County fire captain, was sleeping next to his wife in their Whittier house when a thief began to pick the lock of his pickup truck.

Inside the covered bed of the truck sat all of his fire gear, personal protective equipment and uniforms. On a normal day, Heard would have plopped his things in the living room. But he has adjusted to his new normal, reporting to medical calls where he came in contact with about 20 patients who eventually tested positive for COVID-19, two of whom required hospitalization. To protect his family from infection, Heard left his gear, possibly infected by the virus, inside his pickup.

A surveillance camera from Heard’s home shows a dark-colored truck pull up next to Heard’s white pickup on April 10. A man gets out of the truck. It takes him a little over one minute to unlock the door, start the truck, flip on the headlights and drive away.


A still taken from home surveillance footage that shows the movements just before the thief drives away with the white pickup truck of Craig Heard, 41, of Whittier, a Los Angeles County fire captain. (Courtesy of Craig Heard)

The next morning, Heard, 41, went outside to run an errand, and instead of seeing his white 2005 GMC, he saw the concrete curb and an empty patch of asphalt.

“I was pretty shocked,” Heard said, adding this was the first time he had been victim of theft.

Though crime has been down across Southern California while most people are staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some thieves have still been up to the task. And for those on the front lines of carrying out their jobs in the face of the pandemic, such as first responders and healthcare workers, being a victim of theft can feel extra shocking and untimely.

Equipment shortages

Donna Burbaj, 31, a home health nurse living in Riverside, was isolated in her room after testing positive for COVID-19 when a thief decided to steal from her. She had contracted the virus from a relative who also works in healthcare, a cardiologist.

On Wednesday morning, Burbaj awoke to a call from her roommate. The doors of her car were open. Burbaj’s boyfriend went to investigate: the glove compartment and center console were ajar, and missing from the backseat were her two work bags, full of medical supplies and equipment.

Inside the bags were surgical masks, gloves, Clorox wipes, a blood pressure monitor, a thermometer, syringes and needles, and a stethoscope. Similar to Heard, Burbaj kept the bags in her car to prevent possible spread of the virus to her three roommates.

Burbaj said she spent a part of that morning crying, processing the feeling of being violated, an uninvited stranger stepping into her domain, another problem to deal with in what had already been a stressful week in isolation.

“It just sucks. I go out to different people’s houses and I know even in our office, they’re low on supplies and masks,” Burbaj said.

Most of her patients are elderly and have chronic illness such as diabetes that put them at higher risk of developing severe symptoms if they contract the COVID-19 virus. Wearing personal protection equipment while in their homes can mean a matter of life or death for her patients.

Both Burbaj and Heard have had to pay out of pocket to replace some of their equipment.

While the county is covering the cost for his helmet, jacket, pants, and air respirator mask, he has to pay for his uniform, boots, badge, helmet shield, gloves, and all of his tools, such as cutting devices used when extricating people trapped inside their cars after a collision.

Burbaj’s sister blasted out the experience of that theft on Instagram and was able to raise enough funds to cover most of the costs to replace the equipment. But prices for things have inflated. A forehead thermometer that had cost her $20 to $40 now runs at about $100 online, she said.

But among the stolen items were irreplaceable things. Burbaj’s stethoscope was a gift from her boyfriend after she graduated from nursing school. And in Heard’s glove compartment were various mementos like old fire ID’s from his time as a firefighter with Ventura County fire in the 90s.


A photo of Los Angeles County fire Capt. Craig Heard’s truck that was stolen from his Whittier home on April 10. (Courtesy of Craig Heard)

‘You can keep the truck’

Despite the uneasy feeling of having been stolen from, Burbaj said she gives the thief the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they’re stealing because they are in a desperate situation themselves, she said. And she wonders if the thief had been exposed to the virus.

“I feel bad ’cause they touched things that I touched. And they were in a space where I coughed in and sneezed in. They’re technically exposed to that,” Burbaj said.

Heard thinks the thieves had no idea they were stealing from a firefighter. He acknowledged the pandemic has left many people struggling economically.

In an effort to at least recover his gear, Heard posted photos and messages onto various community pages on Facebook, some garnering thousands of views and shares.

“PLEASE, return my gear and badge to any Fire station, no questions asked,” Heard wrote in one of those posts. “You can keep the truck.”

Returning to work

Heard filed a police report with Whittier police. Though he thinks it’s likely the thieves freaked out when they saw the fire gear and tossed it into a dumpster.

“The world goes on. It’s just another day. I just gotta move on. It did suck. But you just gotta move forward,” Heard said. For now, when he returns to work, he will rely on some spare equipment at the fire station and plans to borrow some from co-workers.


A still from home surveillance footage of the dark-colored truck suspected of assisting in the theft of Los Angeles County fire Capt. Craig Heard’s pickup truck from his Whittier home on April 10. (Courtesy of Craig Heard)

 

For Burbaj, she is already focused on returning to work. She is considering a move from home health to inpatient care and has been applying at many hospitals that are trying to meet the rising demand for nurses. When her symptoms subside, she plans on getting tested again for the disease. If negative, she’s eager to head back, despite the ongoing risk of coming in contact with others daily.

“I feel like it’s something I’ve been trained for. It’s something where I always knew the risk,” she said. “More than ever I know I want to do this.”

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Coronavirus: Family emergency planning should take pets into account

  • Callie Acosta of Riverside gives love to her newly adopted Gizz-Moe, a 10-year-old, blind, shih tzu mix, at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Chairs are set up outside in case of a crowd at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center’s intake area in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. “Visitors are following the six foot rule. Families are obviously staying together, but the others are doing good with following. Sometimes it takes a verbal reminder, but they have all be very receptive and have reacted positively,” says Molly Shannon, community relations mgr. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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  • Penelope, 10, is greeted by a gloved and masked potential owner at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Callie Acosta of Riverside shows her enthusiasm after adopting Gizz-Moe, a 10-year-old, blind shih tzu mix, at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Southern California agencies recommend pet owners have a plan for someone to take care of their animals should they get sick with coronavirus. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Angela Eaton of Menifee walks toward the grassy area to meet a prospective dog at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Gini, 2, gets exercise with Caitlyn Fuller, adoption counselor, at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Chairs are set up outside in case of a crowd at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center’s intake area in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. “Visitors are following the six foot rule. Families are obviously staying together, but the others are doing good with following. Sometimes it takes a verbal reminder, but they have all be very receptive and have reacted positively,” says Molly Shannon, community relations mgr. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Animals are up for adoption, including some surrenders due to the coronavirus at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • “Help may be available in the form of friends, family or community resources. An example is our Pet Food Assistance Program, which provides dog or cat food to those experiencing a hardship. Most organizations, including ours, would prefer for pets to stay with their owners, but understand that’s not always possible. That’s where our owner surrenders, done by appointment, can help,” Molly Shannon, community relations mgr., says at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • “If you’ve been thinking of adopting, now is a great time. You’ll be home more to help the pet get acclimated to you and it’s new house. Also, pet owners should reach out if they need help during this time,” Molly Shannon, community relations mgr., says at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • If you need a three-legged friend, Abel is your man, up for adoption at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Aspen is an owner surrender due to the coronavirus at Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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Southern California residents should keep pets in mind during the coronavirus pandemic — and not just their own pets, officials say.

Animal care agencies in recent days have advised people to create an emergency plan for their pets, just as they should have family emergency plans. Such a plan for pets would be executed if an animal owner is hospitalized for coronavirus and could include plans for someone to care for the pet or pets.

In addition, with many shelters closed or having limited services during the pandemic, people may be asked to look out for and temporarily care for strays they may find in their neighborhoods.

The San Bernardino Police Department said that it and the San Bernardino County Coalition of Animal Shelters are asking residents to prepare emergency plans for their pets.

“With the rapid increase of (coronavirus) cases in Southern California, the demand for hospital stays and medical assistance from hospitals and medical providers is escalating,” police said in a statement. “Animal shelters are preparing for a surge in lost and temporarily homeless animals as a result.”

The Inland Valley Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said pet owners should put together extra food, two weeks of medication, a kennel and any other necessary supplies for a pet in the event of illness.

In addition, pet owners should find a temporary caregiver for their pets. Caregivers could range from a family member or neighbor to a pet-sitter or boarding facility.

“Make sure all pets have proper identification with your name and contact information,” San Bernardino police said. “Document whether your pet(s) are up to date on vaccinations, write your veterinarian’s contact information and provide the information of some family or friends who will be able to update your pet’s caregiver on your medical status.”

LA Animal Services offered similar advice on an emergency plan for pet owners in a March 13 statement.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said it isn’t uncommon for deputies to run into situations involving pets and their owners.

“Each incident is on a case-by-case basis,” officials said in a statement. “Depending on the situation, we either coordinate with a family member, neighbor or we contact animal control to take possession of the animal. Ultimately, it really depends on the circumstances.”

Several animal shelters throughout Southern California have shut down or have limited operations during the coronavirus pandemic. Those who need information or services should contact their local shelter or check its website.

“People need to figure out who is going to take care of their pets if they go to the hospital or god forbid, they die,” said Maryanne Dell, former pets columnist for the Orange County Register and president of the Shamrock Rescue Foundation in Santa Ana.

Dell said someone could ask a vet if they can board their pet if something were to happen to them, or arrange with a friend who could keep the animal at their house

“By having a plan, you can rest assured that your animal companions will be cared for no matter the circumstance,” the Inland Valley Humane Society & SPCA said. “Your preparedness plan also allows public animal shelters to maintain space and be better prepared for stray pets, animal welfare emergencies and the upcoming kitten season.”

LA Animal Services also said Wednesday that it will not turn away any sick or injured animals during the pandemic. It also suggested that people finding pets wandering in their neighborhoods post photos and descriptions of them on social media — and consider sheltering them for up to 30 days to free up space in shelters.

“Another way Angelenos can help is to consider our Shelter-at-Home Program and foster the dog or cat, while searching for the owner,” LA Animal Services said.

The Shelter-at-Home program is a process through which a person finds a pet, advises Animal Services that it is lost and then houses the animal while searching for its owner. Animal Services said after 30 days but before 32 days, the person who found the pet must either decide to keep it or surrender the animal to Animal Services.

A person housing a pet through the program will free up space in shelters throughout the city.

“We’re also taking in pets whose owner has died, leaving them alone, as well as taking in pets whose owner lives alone and is too sick to care for them,” Brenda Barnette, general manager for LA Animal Services, said in a statement Wednesday.

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Laguna Beach city manager diagnosed with coronavirus, expects a full recovery

LAGUNA BEACH — Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Pietig was self-isolating at home, CBS Los Angeles reported Wednesday night.

“I am in good spirits, will continue to work from home and expect to make a full recovery,” Pietig said in a statement. Pietig had participated in Tuesday night’s video conference City Council meeting.

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2 students, 1 employee at Cal State Northridge receive treatment for coronavirus

NORTHRIDGE — Two students and an employee at Cal State Northridge were being treated Thursday after being diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Two of the cases were confirmed by medical professionals and one reported the diagnosis to the school, according to a Wednesday statement from the university.

“Our thoughts are with each of the affected individuals as they receive the medical care they need,” the statement said.

The employee has been on campus in the past week, but the two students have not. Both students reside in a neighboring county, the university said.

Anyone who came in close contact with the three patients either has been or will be notified immediately if they need to isolate themselves or self- monitor, the university said.

“Facilities that have been visited by the employee have been closed and will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected,” CSUN said.

The school transitioned to online classes Monday.

Last week the school disclosed two students were being tested for coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the university said tests for both students came back negative.

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Amazon worker in Moreno Valley tests positive for coronavirus

An employee at an Amazon fulfillment center in Moreno Valley has tested positive for the coronavirus, the company confirmed on Tuesday night.

The worker was last at the site on March 18, received medical care and is in quarantine, Amazon said. Amazon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay, the company said.

“We are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from local officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site,”  Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon said Moreno Valley employees were informed of the case and anyone who was in close contact with the employee will stay home for 14 days in self-quarantine.

The company said that worldwide it had taken preventative steps for its operations — including delivery and transportation partners — like increased cleaning of facilities, promotion of social distancing and requiring workers to stay home and seek medical attention if they are feeling unwell.

In a statement, Moreno Valley Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez said it wasn’t known to the city if the worker lives in Moreno Valley.

“The worker is undergoing treatment, and several co-workers have been directed to self-quarantine and are under observation by health officials,” said Gutierrez.

Amazon has extensive operations in the Inland Empire with 14 fulfillment facilities and other large-scale operations in cities including Beaumont, Eastvale, Moreno Valley, Rialto, Riverside, San Bernardino and Redlands.

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City says coronavirus patient died at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood

LYNWOOD — The city of Lynwood announced on its website and social media Sunday that a female patient at St. Francis Medical Center died of COVID-19.

The patient’s name was not immediately released. She was identified only as a woman who had come to the hospital feeling ill, and died shortly afterward.

There have been five confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in the county, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The statement said anyone feeling symptoms should call 211, as recommended by the department.

“If you are not symptomatic, by all means, do not come to the hospital or to your provider,” the statement said.

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