Earthquake rattles Southern California

An earthquake shook Southern California late Friday.

The quake struck just after 11:30 p.m. and was initially rated as a magnitude-4.6 temblor, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was centered about 1.8 miles west southwest of El Monte.

The shaking was felt from Oxnard to Riverside and as far north as Santa Clarita and as far south as Carlsbad, according to the USGS.

Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones said in a tweet that is the quake was located near the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake, which was magnitude 5.9.

“It was a pretty good jolt here in Pasadena,” she tweeted.

Still getting everything processed, but it was a pretty good jolt here in Pasadena

— Dr. Lucy Jones (@DrLucyJones) September 19, 2020

The Los Angeles Fire Department immediately went into earthquake mode, with all 106 fire stations checking their areas for damage, Chief Ralph M. Terrazas tweeted.

This is a breaking news story. Come back later for updates.

City News Service contributed to this report

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Anaheim man arrested after Placentia fire linked to marijuana honey oil operation

PLACENTIA — A 41-year-old Anaheim man was booked Wednesday on suspicion of manufacturing a controlled substance stemming from a blaze at a marijuana honey oil operation in Placentia, police said.

David Hoffman was found in front of a business that caught fire in the 700 block of Dunn Way about 8:40 a.m., Placentia police said.

Police said he told first responders there was a marijuana honey oil operation in the burning building and that there were several flammable chemicals on the premises, leading firefighters to evacuate workers in the Dunn Way Business Park as well as businesses on the 700 block of Orangethorpe Avenue.

No injuries were reported.

Anyone with information helpful to investigators was asked to call police at 714-993-8146. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS.

Marijuana concentrates are a highly potent THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrated mass that is similar in appearance to honey or butter, which is why it is sometimes referred to or known on the street as “honey oil” or “budder,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s also known as “butane hash oil.” One method of manufacturing concentrates uses highly flammable butane to extract the THC from the cannabis plant.

The Register contributed to this story.

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Family of nursing home resident who died: ‘She had 3 really good years there and 1 really bad week’

Karen Johnson, 77, spent about three years in the Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont.

“She was at an unlocked memory care facility in Hemet, but she got to the point with her Alzheimer’s and dementia … where she needed to be in a locked facility,” said her daughter, Dena Garcia.


Eye of the Storm

Southern California Nursing Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Latest installments in a continuing series

  • Part One:  What do Southern California nursing homes hard hit by COVID-related deaths have in common? We spoke with experts, nursing home administrators and advocates to find out.
  • Part Two: A tale of two Pasadena nursing homes. One, Gem Transitional Care Center, hard hit by COVID deaths and another, Camellia Gardens, about four miles away, that wasn’t.
  • Today, Part Three: Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont has one of the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths per average daily number of residents of any skilled nursing home in Orange, Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

The series was produced by correspondent Brenda Gazzar and SCNG staff writer Beau Yarbrough, participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.


Garcia, who lives in Moreno Valley, would visit her mother regularly.

“I had a really good relationship with people who worked there. I knew them, they knew me, I could show up at any time,” she said.

And her mother seemed to like Highland Springs:

“She was a very outdoorsy person, so I think she liked getting outdoors and still feel like she was getting outside,” Garcia said, although she noted that Johnson still wasn’t allowed to leave the grounds.

In March, as the coronavirus pandemic swept into Riverside County, Highland Springs stopped all visitation. Management told residents’ families they had a rigorous routine for keeping staff, residents and the facility clean and virus-free. All employees were screened for temperatures when they arrived each day, for example. According to her family, Johnson even appears in a March 23 video about hand washing on the Highland Springs Facebook page.

“She had three really good years there and one really bad week,” said Johnson’s grandson, Kyle Garcia, who lives near Fort Worth.

On April 11, Dena Garcia was told that her mother was running a fever. Three days later, Johnson was sent to the emergency room at Banning’s San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital, where she was nonresponsive. Previously, she was capable of holding conversations and, her dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, was in generally good shape, according to her family.

Highland Springs spokeswoman Liz Tyler blames asymptomatic spread for the virus getting into Highland Springs.

“It’s not like the memory care facility created this virus or served it with breakfast,” she said. “It came in from the outside.”

Despite housing those most vulnerable to COVID-19, nursing homes don’t have the same tools as hospitals do to fight it, she said.

“Nursing homes, they don’t have negative space rooms like you have in hospitals. They have shared ventilation,” Tyler said. “It is an extraordinary effort to contain it.”

Highland Springs stopped admitting new residents on April 13, after the facility was first informed a resident had tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 17, Highland Springs was told Johnson had tested positive for COVID-19. Staff ended up testing all of their patients that same day, Tyler said. Sixty-one out of 86 residents tested positive, most of whom were asymptomatic.

“Their suspicion is it came with an asymptomatic staff member and it may have been a staff member who had a job in more than one facility,” Tyler said.

The facility gave employees an ultimatum, requiring them to only work at one facility, and residents who had tested positive were put in isolation.

Johnson died April 19 — the only person to die of COVID-19 in Riverside County that day, according to county health officials. She was the 75th person to die in the county of the disease.

A nurse at the hospital held up the phone so Dena Garcia could say goodbye to her mother.

“I just told her that I loved her and that we didn’t want her to suffer,” she said. “If it’s your time, it’s your time and you can go. Even without the coronavirus, Alzheimer’s is just a terrible, terrible disease.”

It has been a tough year for Dena Garcia: The last time she saw her mother alive was the day before Garcia’s father was buried. Two of Johnson’s six other siblings also have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

As of Sept. 11, 20 Highland Springs residents have died of COVID-19, roughly 24% of their 84 average daily residents, according to an analysis of data from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare database and the California Department of Public Health’s Skilled Nursing Homes COVID-19 database.

According to Tyler, Highland Springs hasn’t had any new residents test positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of June.

“They got hit with an invisible bomb, they jumped on it, they did the isolation necessary,” she said. “Even with their dementia population, they kept it from spreading.”

The Garcias feel Highland Springs wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been about the spread of the coronavirus in the facility, something Tyler denies. But the family is sympathetic to the challenge that Highland Springs faces trying to keep dementia and Alzheimer’s patients from contracting COVID-19.

“You can’t teach them to not eat off each others’ plates. You can’t teach them to keep their hands to themselves. You can’t teach them to not pick up a half-smoked cigarette and smoke it for themselves,” Dena Garcia said. “It’s just going to happen.”

According to Tyler, the big challenge isn’t keeping the virus controlled inside nursing homes; it’s keeping it from coming in from the world outside, where, six months on, the public still can’t agree on how to prevent the virus’ spread.

“This bug is easy to kill. You just have to know it’s there. Once you know it’s there, you separate, do all the cleaning and all the things like that and you get rid of it, like this facility did,” Tyler said. “But any facility in this country, no matter how good their protocols are, they’re just one day from an asymptomatic person coming in.”

This article was produced as a project for the USC Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

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A tale of two Southern California nursing homes in the era of coronavirus

Administrator Hrag Bekerian felt confident, he said, that they were taking the right precautions at Gem Transitional Care Center before the coronavirus struck.

The four-star-rated nursing home on South Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena had closed its doors to visitors a week before the state’s guidance. Managers held frequent training sessions, screened all entrants and ramped up hand-washing checks.

“We believe we were well-prepared,” said Bekerian, 31.


Eye of the Storm

Southern California Nursing Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Latest installments in a continuing series

  • Sunday, Part One What do Southern California nursing homes hard hit by COVID-related deaths have in common? We spoke with experts, nursing home administrators and advocates to find out.
  • Tuesday, Part Two: A tale of two Pasadena nursing homes. One, Gem Transitional Care Center, hard hit by COVID deaths and another, Camellia Gardens, about four miles away, that wasn’t.
  • Wednesday, Part Three: Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont has one of the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths per average daily number of residents of any skilled nursing home in Orange, Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

The series was produced by correspondent Brenda Gazzar and SCNG staff writer Beau Yarbrough, participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.


 

Yet since mid-April, nearly 55 residents at Gem Transitional tested positive for COVID, more than a dozen of whom died. With typically around 65 daily residents, the nursing home has one of the highest COVID-related resident death rates in Los Angeles County for its population, according to a review by the Southern California News Group.


A caregiver gets a temperature check while Nelida Arlante, administrator of Camellia Gardens, poses at the Pasadena care center on Friday, August 7, 2020. Arlante says a dozen staff members and three residents tested positive for COVID-19, with one patient death. Arlante believes the strict rules, educational sessions and oversight she implemented at her facility helped curb the spread of the virus. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

About four miles up the road is Camellia Gardens Care Center. As a one-star facility, it has the lowest possible overall rating on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare. The slightly larger home had three residents contract COVID and only one death, said Nelida Arlante, the home’s administrator.

Arlante believes their vigilance helped curb the virus there. As a former physician in the Philippines, Arlante said, she may have had an edge.

2,900 deaths in region

More than 2,900 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19-related causes in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, comprising about one-third of this region’s total coronavirus deaths, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

Nursing homes across the region have touted early studies showing that location and size largely determine how they’ve fared with the virus. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that several other factors can help seal a home’s fate.

Mass testing with quick results and adequate personal protective equipment are clearly important, experts say. Nursing staff levels, infection-control practices, resident demographics, leadership and even a home’s for-profit status also can contribute to the death toll.

“It’s all those factors,” said Charlene Harrington, professor emerita at UC San Francisco and a registered nurse.


Hrag Bekerian, administrator of Gem Transitional Care Center, poses at the Pasadena center on Friday, August 7, 2020. The nursing home had a high number of patients and staff including Bekerian who contracted COVID-19. Today they have no coronavirus patients. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Behind the high death toll

Bekerian believes the high death toll at his for-profit facility is due at least partly to the type of residents it serves.

“We take high acuity patients,” said Bekerian, whose Gem Transitional facility often accepts patients from neighboring Huntington Hospital. “We had residents in the building that had higher and severe chronic conditions.”

People of color, who are disproportionately affected by the virus, also made up nearly 60% of their residents, according to data Bekerian provided.

California nursing homes with overall quality ratings of four and five stars were less likely to have COVID-19 cases and deaths when adjusting for a home’s size and patients’ race, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. Nursing facilities with smaller white populations and for-profit ones were more likely to have higher cases and deaths.

Learning hard lessons

Like with many homes, there were also hard lessons they learned in real time.

First, Bekerian said, guidance from local, state and federal agencies kept changing.

He also realized it would have been best to quarantine staff working at multiple facilities at home for 14 days right away. Instead, Gem Transitional had at first waited for COVID-19 cases to surface at an employee’s second facility before doing so.

The nursing home, which has a four-star rating for staffing, eventually told employees they had to pick one facility after the Pasadena Public Health Department directed nursing homes to avoid using employees with multiple jobs “by any means possible” on April 12.

“I think it would have shown us good results if we had done it much, much earlier,” Bekerian said, noting the facility was simply following the guidance given by local health officials.

The vast majority of their employees stayed, he said, and all received hazard pay. He declined to say how much.


How to find nursing home ratings, deficiencies


 

Employees work at other facilities

Sometimes, employees work at nursing homes with known COVID outbreaks and then are allowed by employers to work at a second facility, said Molly Davies, who oversees L.A. County’s ombudsman program that investigates concerns of residents in long-term care.

Along with a lack of adequate staffing and training, Davies believes this has been a main reason why some nursing homes have been harder hit.

“Part of that is because facilities don’t want to pay overtime so they’d rather have you work even at another building because it starts the clock again,” Davies said.

Watch employees ‘like a hawk’

Arlante has pondered how the for-profit Camellia Gardens, which has below-average ratings for staffing and health inspections, had managed to escape a harsher death toll.


Nelida Arlante, administrator of Camellia Gardens, poses at the Pasadena care center on Friday, August 7, 2020. Arlante had a dozen staff members and three residents test positive for COVID-19 with one patient death. Arlante believes the strict rules, educational sessions and oversight she implemented at her facility helped curb the spread of the virus. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Maybe (it’s because) we are strict with our employees and we watch them like a hawk,” Arlante said. “Hand hygiene seems so simple but if you are lax, you will forget the steps and do the shortcut.”

Calming employees’ fears with regular shift training was important, she said. Being available to answer questions at any time was as well.

Arlante and Camellia Gardens’ director of nursing slept on couches in the conference room for a week after their first COVID case, she said. They later often stayed until 10 or 11 p.m. at night to supervise the employees.

“I treat the facility as family and these employees like children,” she said. “If they are afraid, they can do something drastic unless the mother hen is there.”

Camellia Gardens also provided its employees with meals three times a day to reduce their trips and their exposure outside, Arlante said.

OT and double-time allowed

The home began requiring nursing staff to pick one facility in May, she said, and lost 15 nurses in the process. But Camellia Gardens gave “bonuses” to all employees and allowed for overtime as well as double-time, which enabled them “to get by.”

Bekerian believes the local health order directing facilities to avoid using employees who work at other facilities helped turn things around at his home. Gem Transitional also learned to adapt to a new, stringent reality.

They had separate entrances for those caring for COVID patients, separate areas to put on their PPE and separate break rooms. The nursing home became vigilant about watching its staff put on and take off their masks, gloves and gowns.

It was “being very strict with every policy and procedure we have put in place,” Bekerian said.

New residents accepted

In mid-August, the city gave the nursing home clearance to accept new residents again. New residents are put in an observation unit for 14 days before they can go into the “green zone” with patients who don’t have the virus or have fully recovered from it.

As of Sept. 10, Gem Transitional had 44 patients in a home with 75 beds.

With all the different zones in the building, it has “beds ready in case a breakdown happens,” Bekerian said. But ultimately, he would “love to get back to full capacity.”

“It’s a little challenging but that’s our goal down the road,” he said. “We’re taking it day by day.”

Contributor Elissa Lee contributed to this report. This article was produced as part of a project for the USC Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

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2 slain in Anaheim; suspect is believed to have killed himself in Santa Barbara County

ANAHEIM — Anaheim detectives investigating a double homicide Sunday found the suspect in Santa Barbara County dead from an apparent suicide.

It started about 6:15 a.m. when officers were called to an apartment in the 1800 block of South Haster Street on a report that two people had been shot, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Shane Carringer.

“Officers arrived on scene and located the bodies of 47-year-old, Maria Ernestina Ramirez of Anaheim, and 40-year-old Efrain Hernandez-Ramirez of Placentia,” Carringer said. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims had the same last name but their relationship was not immediately explained.

“Homicide detectives quickly identified Jorge Pino, a 57-year-old resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, as a suspect in the murders,” he said. “Jorge Pino and Maria Ernestina Ramirez were in a long-term dating relationship which had recently ended.”

Detectives were preparing an arrest warrant for Pino at about 10:30 a.m. when Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies discovered Pino’s body in the Gaviota area, Carringer said. “Pino suffered what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “

Anyone who had contact with Pino or has other information was asked to call Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS.

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Coronavirus: Reopening of Orange County schools now delayed to Sept. 22, at the earliest

Orange County’s schools may be able to open in-person on Sept. 22 – not Sept. 8 – the Orange County Health Care Agency announced late Monday night via Twitter.

Under a new four-color, tiered monitoring system, Orange County is in the most restrictive of the tiers, but it’s on track to bump up to the next tier on Sept. 8.

The county would then remain for 14 days in that tier, county health officials confirmed with the the California Department of Public Health, according to the late-night Tweet.

That means that the earliest schools could welcome students to campuses is on Sept. 22.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new color-coded tier system on Friday, there was initially much confusion among Orange County educators as to what it meant for school reopenings. Then, the county’s health officer, Clayton Chau, tweeted that the switch to a new monitoring system did not reset the 14-day countdown and schools could still open as soon as Sept. 8, if lower case trends continue.

I confirmed with the State that has not changed for OC except for the update in the new blueprint usually occurs on Monday and the State posts on Tuesday, so the school reopening would be Tuesday, September 8, right after Labor Day weekend.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) August 28, 2020

On Saturday, county health officials cast doubt on that opening date. In a Tweet, officials said they requested clarification from schools on the 14-day wait cycle. “State indicated we would get credit for those days. More to come.”

Update re: Gov.’s new system. We’ve requested additional clarification from State re: schools as there are several counties, including #OC, who are in limbo as we were part way thru prior 14 day cycle to re-open. State indicated we would get credit for those days. More to come.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) August 29, 2020

The answer apparently came late Monday night.  The earliest Orange County schools can open to in-person learning will be Sept. 22.

County Health Officer received confirmation from @CAPublicHealth that #OC is on track to enter into Red Tier on Sept. 8. Providing we meet Red Tier metrics at that time, there will be a 14-day wait for all K-12 schools to be eligible for reopening, which could happen on Sept. 22.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) September 1, 2020

Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools, said in a statement Monday night: “I know how frustrating it is to be in this position, given the complex planning it takes to restart our campuses.”

“Dr. Chau has advocated strongly on our behalf, but the state was firm in its response.”

To learn more about the new color-coded monitoring system: Orange County lands in most restrictive tier of new coronavirus tracking system 

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Garden Grove man, who served time for terrorism, now accused of drug trafficking

Drug trafficking charges have been leveled against a Garden Grove man previously convicted of leading a terrorist organization that planned attacks on military installations and synagogues in Los Angeles, officials said Wednesday, July 26.

Ahmed Binyamin Alasiri, also known as Kevin Lamar James, 44, of Garden Grove, was arrested Friday, Aug. 21 and indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on suspicion of two felony counts of distribution of methamphetamine. The defendant allegedly sold a total of two pounds of high-grade methamphetamine for $7,400 to his housemate, an undercover FBI employee, on July 24 and Aug. 6, according to court documents.

“I have connections to every single drug you can imagine,” Alasiri said while riding in a car with the undercover FBI employee on June 11, 2020, according to court documents.

He faces between 10 years to life in prison if convicted. Alasiri made his first appearance in court on Monday, and is scheduled to appear at an arraignment hearing Sept. 14.

Alasiri was on supervised release after being sentenced in 2009 to 16 years in federal prison. He had pleaded guilty  in December 2007 to one count of conspiracy to levy war against the United States. He founded Jami’yyat Ul-Islam Is-Shaheeh (JIS), a group that planned to attack “enemies of Islam or ‘infidels,’” according to court documents.

The radical organization conducted research and made plans to attack military bases and recruitment centers, synagogues, the Israeli consulate and other targets in Los Angeles, according to court documents. Members of the group robbed 10 gas stations in Orange, Fullerton, Torrance, Bellflower, Pico Rivera, Playa Vista, Walnut and Los Angeles between May 30, 2005 and July 5, 2005.

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3 family members from O.C. sentenced to jail for home loan modification scheme

SANTA ANA — A 43-year-old Yorba Linda man, his brother and the brother’s wife received jail terms Tuesday as part of their involvement in a $390,000 scheme involving loan modification companies that preyed on mostly Spanish-speaking victims throughout the state.

The ring leader, Carlos Jose Centeno, who pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to a year in jail and placed on seven years of formal probation. He is scheduled to report to jail Oct. 30, according to court records.

Centeno’s brother, Ricardo Torres Centeno, 36, of Anaheim, who also pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to 150 days in jail and placed on seven years probation. He is also scheduled to report to jail on Oct. 30.

Ricardo Centeno’s wife, Lizeth Garcia Arzate, 37, who also pleaded guilty in January was sentenced to 90 days in jail and placed on three years of formal probation. She is scheduled to report to jail by Feb. 12, according to court records.

Co-defendants Hector Alfredo Valdivia, 55, of Lake Elsinore, and Susie Rabadan, 36, of Anaheim, were scheduled for sentencing Sept. 9, according to court records.

About two dozen victims were bilked out of fees for helping them to renegotiate their home loans, Orange County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors said when charges were filed in January 2015.

Carlos Centeno was the ringleader, prosecutors said. He owned Foreclosure Prevention Department in Irvine and was an executive for Orange County-based Debt Settlers of America.

It is illegal to charge upfront fees for loan modification services, prosecutors said.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department led the investigation, prosecutors said.

Valdivia and Rabadan were considered lesser players in the scams from the end of 2009 through 2012, prosecutors said.

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Coronavirus state tracker: Hospitalizations down 17% in last 14 days in California on August 24

According to the California COVID-19 dashboard there are 5,618 patients hospitalized in California on Monday, Aug. 24. This is a decrease of 1,152 patients (17%) over the last 14 days.

The state is reporting that 31% of its ICU beds are available, 65% of its ventilators are available and ICUs occupancy has declined by 17.6% in the last 14 days.

The state had conducted 1,654,133 tests in the last 14 days with a 6.5% test positivity rate. There have been more than 10.65 million tests in the state since March.

Orange County and San Diego County were dropped from the state’s monitoring list as of Sunday. They are the only two counties in Southern California to attain that status.

All data on the state tracker is preliminary and subject to change.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization, the California Department of Public Health, The Associated Press, reporting counties and news sources

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2 pedestrians killed in Anaheim crash identified

Officials identified two men Sunday, Aug. 23, who were fatally struck by a BMW while crossing a street in Anaheim nine days earlier.

Girmay Girmay, 70, of Anaheim and Solomon Kedebe, 61, of Los Alamitos, on Friday, Aug. 14 were standing on a center divider along Lincoln Avenue near Aladdin Drive just before the crash, Anaheim Police Sgt. Steve Pena said. They waited for at least one vehicle to pass before trying to cross the street, but were hit by a silver BMW at about 9 p.m.

“It looks like the pedestrians didn’t see the driver, and the driver didn’t see the pedestrians because the other car was in the way,” Pena said.

Both men died before they could be taken to a hospital, Orange County Coroner’s officials said. Relatives and friends of the victims from the surrounding neighborhood gathered near the site of the crash as police conducted an investigation.

Residential parking is limited nearby, and many people who live in the area wind up crossing Lincoln to get to their homes, Pena said. He said jaywalking is not uncommon on that street.

The driver of the BMW coupe waited for police to arrive, Pena  said. Drugs or alcohol did not appear to have been factors in the crash, Anaheim Police Sgt. Shane Carringer said.

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