Police Files

Laguna Beach man sustains critical injuries after crash early Thursday

On Thanksgiving morning at 1:16 a.m., callers reported hearing a crash in the area of Park Avenue and Tahiti Avenue.

“A single vehicle reportedly drove off the hillside and rolled several times,” said Sgt. Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “The driver was ejected from the vehicle at some point.”

A helicopter was called in to extract the driver, a Laguna Beach man in his 20s, from the bottom of the ravine. He was taken to the hospital with critical injuries.


Police Files

Thieving duo steals wallets at Ralphs

Multiple shoppers at Ralphs on Monday evening, likely stocking up for Thanksgiving, were met with an unpleasant surprise… their wallets had been stolen. 

“Two suspects, a man and a woman, worked in conjunction with each other to systematically distract women and steal their wallets from their purses in their shopping carts,” explained Sgt. Cota, LBPD spokesperson. 

Two victims came forward, reporting that their wallets had been stolen around 6:20 p.m..

Photos courtesy of LBPD

Surveillance footage shows the two suspects, who would distract customers before taking their wallets

The total reported loss at this point is $102 and credit cards. The suspects were not seen entering any vehicles.

If you recognize the suspects, or have any information, please contact the LBPD at 949-497-0701.

Facebook followers find fraudster

In June, a woman went to Bank of America to cash a check.

Trouble was, that check was stolen, and so was the ID she used.

When officers responded, the woman had left the scene. LBPD detectives had only the surveillance footage provided to them by the bank to solve the crime.

Photos courtesy of LPBD

In an effort to maximize the resources available to them, LBPD sent out crime bulletins to other police agencies, and posted stills from the video on their Facebook page.

Lo and behold, a Facebook follower recognized the woman in the video – a prior resident of Laguna who had moved away a few years ago.

Alexandra Hovas was located and arrested on November 13. She has been charged with check fraud, identity theft, and other fraud and theft related charges.


Police Files

Peace, love, positivity…and then the police

Thursday morning, fumes from paint cans permeated the area of Canyon Acres Drive and Laguna Canyon Road.

An open area with cement and rebar remnants near a hiking trail had been spray painted with the letters “PLP,” said to stand for “Peace, Love, and Positivity.”

Timothy Payton, 26, Irvine, was apprehended and admitted to spray painting the rocks, concrete and trees in the area.

“He said he did it to paint over all the negativity,” explained Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “He was arrested for vandalism and transported to the Laguna Beach Police Department.”

Assault with a deadly flashlight

On Friday evening, a fight over a cell phone on Main Beach escalated a bit too far for one of the parties involved.

A group of three men was squabbling over who among them was the rightful owner of a Samsung cell phone. Joseph Hogsten, 30, no fixed address, was prepared to go to any means necessary to prove the phone was his.

“Hogsten hit two men in the head with a flashlight,” said Sgt. Jim Cota. One of the victims reported that he was losing consciousness while on the phone with the police department.

Hogsten was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, with bail set at $25,000.


Police Files

Shipwrecked in Laguna

The evening of Tuesday the 14th on Main Beach, Laguna residents were met with something unexpected.

Laguna Beach Police, Fire, and Marine Safety, as well as OCSD Harbor Patrol, congregated at the shore following reports of a 26’ boat running aground. 

The two uninjured occupants, a local transient and a man from Laguna Niguel, had arrived on Main Beach after the vessel had suffered from electrical problems.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Valerie Sokola

The sailboat was not in very good shape when it ran aground Tuesday

“Marine Safety personnel called in a vessel assist company to assess the options,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “The two subjects did not have enough money to pay for the boat to be extracted and wanted to push it back into the ocean.”

Instead, the boat was deemed a hazard, and Marine Safety took custody and responsibility of it. They monitored the boat overnight and called in Public Works in the morning to pull the boat further up the shore during high tide, twelve hours after the boat ran aground.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Tracy Newton

Heavy equipment was brought in for the removal of the vessel Wednesday morning

The boat was removed Wednesday morning. 

Yoga locker burglar and credit card thief pleads guilty

In February, a man entered a Laguna Beach yoga studio and ransacked the lockers, later using stolen credit cards to pay his bill at a local restaurant.

He left town on a train, and continued his life of crime at stops between San Francisco and San Diego over the next few months.

Douglas Schlichting was arrested in June by the Coronado Police Department, and on Monday, pled guilty to charges of residential burglary and identity theft.

Photo courtesy LBPD

Douglas Schlichting

As a third strike felon, Schlichting faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 11 years and 8 months. 

“He also has a probation violation out of San Francisco, where they will choose to sentence him to an additional 8 years consecutive or concurrent,” said Cota.

Schlichting’s sentencing will be on January 9, 2018.

Man bites officer, gets arrested

Wednesday evening, a drunk man on Cleo Street got unruly with officers.

Joshua Szalanczy, 21, Florida, was passed out on the sidewalk when officers arrived to check on him. 

When officers placed him under arrest, he tried to fight with the officers, biting one in the leg in the process.

LBPD Booking Photo

Joshua Szalanczy

In the end, the officers prevailed and Szalanczy was arrested for being drunk in public and felony battery on a police officer. The bitten officer was not seriously injured.


Police Files

LBPD reminds residents to lock their doors following vacation rental break-in

Laguna Beach residents aren’t the only victims in the recent spree of burglaries across town. 

A visitor staying in a vacation rental in the 1100 block of N. Coast Hwy woke up at around 3 a.m. on Wednesday to find someone in her room. Upon seeing that the previously sleeping guest was awake, the suspect fled – but not before grabbing a jacket with $40 inside.

“The suspect entered through unlocked doors,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “People need to lock the doors to their residences and vehicles.”

The jacket was recovered, but the money was gone. And, there was a beer on the front porch the following morning that hadn’t been there the night before.

LBPD is looking into the case to see if there are any leads.

Rats! We have a gnawing suspicion that a certain thief was disappointed when he opened stolen packages 

Imagine the scene: you’re just your average burglar ambling along Cerritos Street early Thursday morning, wondering whether today will be your lucky day, looking for open windows or doors, when you see a few nice size boxes sitting on the doorstep of a home…so you pick them up. 

They’re heavy and rattle when you shake them. Seems like this could be valuable stuff – the kind of stuff thieves like you can make money on. It’s been a slow thief day.

You scurry away, packages in hand. Feeling beady eyes on you, you turn – has the homeowner noticed you? But no, it’s a pair of rats sitting on a fencepost, whiskers upturned. If you didn’t know better, you might think they were smiling at you, as if to say, hey, we recognize you, and thanks, buddy! 

Thanks, buddy – we see you’re one of us…

Funny what nerves will do to your mind.

When you get home, you open the boxes to find – 60+ rat traps. Nearly $85 worth of rat traps and their associated equipment, to be exact. A plague on the house you burgled!

It’s not your lucky day after all. And you have a gnawing feeling the cops will be after you soon. 

And we think you’re right about that.


Police Files

Lumberyard vandal apprehended in Tustin

In the wee hours last Thursday morning, a suspect destroyed lights in front of the Lumberyard Restaurant. The damage was estimated to be about $2,000. 

Unfortunately for the suspect, the Lumberyard is right across from the Laguna Beach Police Department, and the entire incident was caught on camera. Not to mention, the suspect had been called to bail out a friend of theirs who had been arrested that night. 

“Sometimes people make bad decisions when they are mad, and this was one of them,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson.

Click on photos for larger images

Photos Courtesy of LBPD

LBPD detectives were able to positively identify the suspects who vandalized the Lumberyard lights thanks to security footage 

“The Investigations Team quickly identified the suspect and located him. There was no hesitation in making the arrest,” said Cota. 

 LBPD Detective Jordan Mirakian called the suspect before the arrest. “I told him, you’re caught, now let’s put this behind us. He agreed. The arrest was uneventful, which is the way we like it,” he said.

LBPD Booking Photo

Noah Laguna

Noah Laguna, 19, Tustin, was taken into custody without incident in Tustin on Thursday. He admitted to what he did and was booked into the Laguna Beach Jail on charges of vandalism.

“We will not tolerate extensive damage done to our businesses and have someone think they are going to get away with it,” said Cota.

More than termites gone after fumigation

Having a home fumigated for termites is not uncommon. Unfortunately, when the tents go up, the home can become a target for crime.

This was the case for homeowners in the 800 block of Coast View Drive. When the owners returned after their house was fumigated, they discovered that the closets had been ransacked, with $10,000 in cash and two watches valued at $40,000 taken.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this happening,” Sgt. Cota said.

There are no suspects at this time, and the extermination company is conducting its own investigation into the matter as well.


Police Files

Thief waltzes away with dancing woman

On Friday evening, a resident in the 200 block of Chiquita Street reported that a sculpture had been stolen from their home. 

The sculpture, a bronze dancing woman on a base of green marble, had been listed on eBay. The loss was estimated at $7,000. 

Copycat sought in wilderness parking lot burglary

Last May, LBPD apprehended a suspect who had been breaking into cars parked in Laguna Coast Wilderness lots on Laguna Canyon Road.

Now, it seems a copycat is back at it.

On Saturday morning, a woman’s car, parked in the lot in the 3200 block of Laguna Canyon Road, was broken into while she was hiking. 

When she returned to her vehicle, she found that her purse, credit cards, house keys, and two iPhones had been stolen.

“Detectives arrested the last guy responsible for all of those vehicle burglaries, but it looks like someone new is back at it,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson.

Remember to lock your vehicles and hide your valuables.


Police Files

Cocaine-fueled man attacks self with towel rack

Guests at the Hotel Laguna were awoken at 12:35 a.m. Thursday morning by some loud banging and yelling. 

Officers arrived and found the source of the commotion to be a man who had ripped the towel bar off the wall. The man, James Hathaway, 32, of Sky Valley, told officers he had been hitting himself in the head with the towel bar.

After further investigation, both Hathaway and his girlfriend, Ashley Neail, 29, Fullerton, were found to be in possession of cocaine. Hathaway claimed that the drugs had been given to them by a man at a bar.

LBPD Booking Photos

Ashley Neail and James Hathaway

Both were arrested and booked into the Laguna Beach Jail for possession of a controlled substance. 

Tips for trick-or-treaters tonight from the LBPD

LBPD hopes that Stu News readers have a lovely evening while they are doing their trick-or-treating. However, there are a few safety tips that they want everyone to keep in mind. 

Be sure to use flashlights or glow sticks so that you are more visible to cars.

Travel in groups or with an adult that you trust. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

These are some fierce pumpkins

Use the crosswalk, looking both ways before you cross. 

Only consume prepackaged candy, 

And make sure to have dad and mom check the candy out before you eat it. 

Keep in mind, the Laguna Beach Police Department has candy as well, so please stop by if you wish.


Police Files

Squatters arrested for burglary and ID theft, spray paint home walls with their initials

An observant resident noticed some suspicious activity at his neighbor’s vacant house in the 600 block of Ramona Avenue on Saturday. An unfamiliar truck was parked in the garage, a window was open, and people unknown to the neighbor were seen around the property.

Officers arrived around 11:45 p.m. to investigate and found that a man and a woman had been living inside the residence for about 10 days without permission from the owner. During that time, they had spray painted the walls with their initials. 

Photo courtesy of LBPD

While squatting inside the home, Justin Westgaard and Dionne Hart left their mark in the form of graffiti

In addition, the pair, Justin Westgaard, 39, Laguna Beach, and Dionne Hart, 45, Costa Mesa, were found to be in possession of drugs, drug paraphernalia, numerous IDs, mail, and financial information belonging to other people.

LBPD Booking Photos

Justin Westgaard and Dionne Hart

Hart and Westgaard were taken to Orange County Jail on charges of burglary, identity theft, and drug related charges. 

More police than protestors at Sunday’s rally

“They recently changed their name to Onward America from America First,” said Sgt Jim Cota of the group that promoted a rally in Laguna Beach this last Sunday.

 The group was allowed to speak in front of the boardwalk...with a slew of law officers in riot gear covering the entire walkway behind them, becoming just silhouettes as the sun began to set. “We have a strong law enforcement contingency that’ll involve all of our law enforcement partners throughout the county, so I would expect upwards of 150 officers total, ready to go. There are horses that are staged. They’re not going to be dispatched immediately, only if they are needed,” Sgt Cota told Stu News as they waited to see what the evening would bring.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Jason Feddy

Police from all over Orange County were at Main Beach Sunday night to help ensure public safety

The group began to speak with a bullhorn to onlookers, mainly protesting how the 2012 Benghazi attack was handled. This lasted for all of 15 minutes before a counter protest group was on the scene. There was an intense law enforcement presence all around. At this point, a group of 20 or so police came into the sand area, separating the two groups, with one group leaving first. Another squad of 30 officers across the street standing two by two on Broadway Street began crossing the Pacific Coast Hwy at around this time (approximately 8 p.m.).

A total of about 60 protesters and counter-protesters were in attendance on Sunday. No arrests were made and the crowds dispersed by 8:45 p.m.

One resident pointed out that the cost was something to consider for all of the equipment expended for this rally. The police barriers, the police with their riot gear – how much did this all cost, the resident wondered. Another passerby lamented that Laguna Beach is so peaceful, usually, and that the contrast recently was very evident –definitely not the usual tranquil beachfront that residents and tourists alike are used to enjoying.

Red Flag Warning issued for Laguna Beach

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the Orange County Coastal Zone, including Laguna Beach, effective through Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. A wind advisory has also been issued where wind speeds between 15-25 mph and gusts of up to 40 mph are possible. Temperatures will be near or in excess of 90 degrees. An elevated sense of awareness is imperative during extreme weather conditions.

Laguna Beach residents should take this time to evaluate their preparedness levels. The City asks residents to refer to the Ready! Set! Go! Program available on the Fire Department website (www.lagunabeachcity.new/cityhall/fire). Register for AlertOC, the city’s mass notification system, by going to www.alertOC.com. Make sure to include your cell phone number, text number, and email addresses so emergency alerts can reach you no matter where you are. In order to ensure you are contacted during a Red Flag Warning, register with the Nixle Red Flag group by texting “LBRedFlag” to 888-777.

During a Red Flag Warning, parking restrictions are implemented for the Diamond/Crestview neighborhood. Any vehicles parked in marked parking spaces with a “red flag” painted in the center of the asphalt may be cited or towed. 

When Red Flag Warning are issued from the National Weather Service, this information will be shared on the city’s website, social media accounts, official press release, and through the Red Flag group in Nixle.


Police Files

Lizzie Mulder, embezzler who stole more than $1.5 million from local businesses, is sentenced to prison

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Mulder, the owner and operator of a financial services company based in Laguna Beach that provided accounting, tax and bookkeeping services to small businesses throughout Orange County, was sentenced this week to five years and three months in federal prison for embezzling more than $1.5 million from her clients.

Mulder, a 34-year-old former Laguna Beach resident, pled guilty in June to wire fraud and subscribing to a false income tax return for failing to report the misappropriated funds to the IRS. 

She convinced nearly all of her victims to make checks payable to “Income Tax Payments” under the guise that the money would be used to satisfy clients’ past and future tax obligations. Instead, these checks went to a fictitious business called “Income Tax Payments,” and the funds used by Mulder to pay for her rental home in Laguna Beach, cosmetic surgery, vacations, a horse, and more. 

Photo courtesy LBPD

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Mulder befriended most of her victims before stealing more than $1.5 million from them between July 2009 and May 2016

“By developing and continuing personal friendships with the victims, Mulder was able to assume responsibilities for their small business accounting needs and then proceeded to steal from them,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Her conduct resulted in various levels of financial loss and emotional distress to the victims, many of whom were required to drain their personal bank accounts or retirement funds in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy.”

In addition to her time in prison, Mulder has been ordered to pay $1,538,781 in restitution to seven victims, including the IRS.  

Spate of residential burglaries continues: three more reported in the last week

On Tuesday, a resident was dropped off at her home on Smithcliffs Road and realized immediately that something was not right. Suspecting that someone was inside the residence, she called the police. 

Officers and a canine unit confirmed that the residence was empty, but someone had definitely been inside. 

A final loss inventory has not yet been completed, but some of the victim’s jewelry was taken.

“This is possibly related to other residential burglaries,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson.“We’re investigating the links.”

On Monday morning, a resident in the 200 block of Lower Cliff Drive came home after being away for three weeks and realized that someone had been inside the residence.

The loss, which included UPS uniforms, a fur coat, a computer, Kindle, iPad and other miscellaneous items, was estimated at about $3,000. 

The suspect may have accessed this home through an unlocked door.

And again, on Sunday, in the 200 block of Crescent Bay Drive, a resident returned home to find random items taken from their house – a computer worth $1,200, an iPhone 6 worth $800, makeup, a classic print Louis Vuitton bag, a UPS package and more – the total loss was estimated at $5,000.

At this residence as well, the suspect may have entered through an unlocked door.

“Residents must be sure to lock all doors and windows – always – and take additional precautions if the home will be empty for a few days,” said Sgt. Jim Cota.

Along with these precautions, residents need to be reminded, Sgt. Cota said, that

the LBPD offers vacation house checks. Just stop by the police station during business

hours to fill out a request form.

America First rally scheduled for Main Beach on Sunday – what residents need to know

A rally to “…bring awareness to Extortion 17 and Benghazi” has been organized for Sunday from 7 to 10 p.m. at Main Beach.

At time of writing, 44 people had RSVPed as “Going” on the Facebook page, with another 262 “Interested.”

The Laguna Beach Police Department is prepared for this event and will have officers on foot as well as some on horseback patrolling the area.

Photo by Scott Brashier

Officers on horseback patrolled at the America First rally in August, where an estimated 2,500 people gathered

LBPD and outside agencies will be setting up at 5 p.m. 

“Residents should continue with any plans that they have,” said Sgt. Jim Cota. “LBPD is here to protect residents. Don’t change your life or lifestyle because of the activities of protestors.”

At least one counter-protest group has been in touch to seek an area set aside for them.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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