Monthly Archives: October 2013

Bicyclist killed in Anaheim crash

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A passing bicyclist slows to look at the investigation where a bicyclist died Wednesday morning in what police believe was a hit-and-run crash in Anaheim.

ANAHEIM – A bicyclist died Wednesday morning in what police believe was a hit-and-run crash.

The crash took place around 5:55 on East Orangethorpe Avenue east of North Lemon Street, said Lt. Bob Dunn of the Anaheim Police Department.

When police arrived, they found the bicyclist dead beneath a green compact car in the right lane, officials said. The bicycle was left behind in the middle lane about 150 feet.

Based on evidence and witness statements, a driver in another vehicle may have hit the bicyclist first, then fled the scene, Dunn said. Orangethorpe was closed at Lemon as police investigated and vehicle access was restricted at Raymond Avenue, he said.



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Santa Ana home to remaining O.C. pot shops

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Most Orange County storefront pot shops closed after a May state Supreme Court decision that allowed cities to ban them. Suite A Laguna Health was the last surviving pot shop in south Orange County, and was shuttered in late August. The space, in a strip mall on Crown Valley Parkway, is now empty and up for lease.

In a county where there were once hundreds of pot shops, now there are 29, and they are all in Santa Ana.

Nearly six months after the state Supreme Court ruled municipalities can ban storefront marijuana dispensaries using their land-use powers, Orange County cities and law enforcement have run out most of the shops selling to medical marijuana patients.

Garden Grove closed more than 60 shops after the May 6 decision, said Community Development Director Susan Emery.

In south Orange County, a lengthy fight by three cities to close more than 50 dispensaries culminated when Laguna Niguel’s Suite A Laguna Health was shuttered in late August.

But the road to closures wasn’t always the same and became increasingly confusing and costly for some city governments. Sometimes they looked to their neighbors for legal advice.

A 2014 statewide legalization initiative and local citywide voter initiatives could still undermine efforts, experts say. A recent Gallup poll, meanwhile, shows 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.

Meanwhile, many storefront dispensaries have transformed themselves into pot delivery services, which are harder for cities to track and regulate. The shows a freeway of little green trucks rolling across Orange County.

Patients who use marijuana under a doctor’s advice say they don’t trust the rolling services, and legalization advocates say the tight regulations are driving others back to the black market.

“In some ways, it’s kind of futile,” said Josh Meisel, a Humboldt State University sociology professor and co-chair of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research. “If anything, it creates an inconvenience for users or people with a really legitimate medical need.”


A string of cases attempted to interpret California’s medical marijuana law – approved by voters in 1996 – and provide guidance for cities and counties that want to limit pot shops. Their conflicting opinions were no surprise, however, considering marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law.

Cities including Lake Forest, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel were already largely successful in forcing out dispensaries before the Supreme Court ruling. But it cost them. The cities spent about $2 million over the past five years in legal fees fighting marijuana. There’s a chance to recoup some of that. Dana Point, for example, has received more than $2.5 million in awards from three lawsuits against dispensaries. The penalties were for violating health and safety codes and laws against unfair competition.

Dana Point has collected one $20,000 check so far, said City Attorney Patrick Munoz.

Laguna Niguel spent close to $90,000 over three years in its effort to close Suite A Laguna Health, owned by Jason Bolding, said City Attorney Terry Dixon.

“What made it take so long was you had all these conflicting Court of Appeal opinions on whether or not cities could ban dispensaries,” he said.

South County supported others in fighting dispensaries, Dixon said. The law firm Best Best & Krieger and its Irvine-based lawyer, Jeffrey Dunn, had already seen success in Lake Forest, where 38 pot shops were shut down in 2011. Dunn also represented Laguna Niguel and Riverside’s Supreme Court case.

Laguna Niguel officials “were well aware of what was happening in Dana Point,” he said, where that city forced six dispensaries to close.

“Everybody knew what everybody was doing,” Dixon said. “I asked (Best Best & Krieger) to handle the Laguna Niguel case because of the success they had in Lake Forest.”

Sometimes the federal government played a part, too.

Despite recent promises by President Barack Obama to not prevent patients from obtaining the drug, federal prosecutors still cracked down on dispensaries, including in Orange County.

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the shop Suite A Laguna Health several months ago, the owner said, before he eventually closed.

Dixon explained the DOJ was initially involved with enforcement in Lake Forest and Costa Mesa. When Suite A Laguna Health was the last in South County, federal agents continued their interest, Dixon said.

Garden Grove took a different tactic. Unable to afford thousands in legal expenses, the city turned to a registration ordinance in an attempt to corral dispensaries, said Emery, the community development director.

“We thought, ‘Maybe this is a reality, maybe it’s not going to go away,’” she said. “But we can limit where it’s going to be, how it’s going to operate.”

After the court decision, Garden Grove said dispensaries had to close immediately or face $1,000 per day in fines. It worked.

“From the standpoint of what we had a year ago, shopping centers being overrun by them, that’s gone,” Emery said. “You just don’t see them anymore.”

That leaves Santa Ana as Orange County’s last holdout for the traditional storefront pot shop, though the number dropped from 59 in May to 17 in June and is now back up to 29, said city spokesman Jose Gonzalez.

Five Santa Ana dispensaries contacted by phone this week declined to talk about their business.

Up to voters

Local voter initiatives might be a solution for some dispensary owners, such as Suite A Laguna Health owner Bolding, who said in August he planned to start gathering signatures after his shop was closed.

The controversy locally and in the rest of the state will likely continue. A group called the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative has been cleared by the secretary of state to start gathering signatures for a statewide legalization initiative in 2014. Voters in Washington state and Colorado made pot legal last year.

A failed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would have allowed more state cannabis regulation and created a new wing of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to license and oversee medical marijuana. It failed, but not before getting Dana Point concerned. A city staff report said that the bill “would drastically limit, and in some circumstances eliminate, the local control currently exercised by cities over marijuana dispensaries.”

State bills and local initiatives are the kind of incremental legislation that could eventually legalize marijuana in this state. But it might not happen until 2016, said Jason Plume, a political science researcher with the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research.

And what would full legalization mean for Orange County’s shops? Would some be allowed back?

“We’ve thought about it, because we’ve started on that registration system,” said Emery of Garden Grove.

“A lot of cities will be scrambling.”

For Orange County’s medical marijuana patients, the Supreme Court decision and subsequent closures mean frustration and inconvenience. They’ve turned to shops in Los Angeles or to delivery services, which some say feel sketchy.

“Especially since that last collective shut down, I’ve had people show up trying find their medicine,” said Kandice Hawes of Orange County NORML, a group that works to reform marijuana laws. “People are kind of freaking out,” she said.

Laguna Beach resident Ed Steinfeld is one of Suite A Laguna Health’s former customers who came to the Laguna Niguel shop twice a week. Before that, he went to a shop in Laguna Beach. There were 1,300 patients who came to the shop, said Jason Bolding, the owner.

After he had major knee surgery two decades ago, Steinfeld says the drug has helped him weather the pain. “It’s really inconvenient” now, said Steinfeld, 50, who said he has resorted to delivery services or driving to dispensaries in L.A.

Hawes said she too has heard concerns about delivery services. Patients often don’t want to meet strangers in a parking lot or allow them into their home, she said.

In her hometown of Lake Forest, action against any kind of dispensary is swift, she said. “If one collective pops up, they are there in days, trying to shut it down,” she said. “Nobody wants to be seen as the one city in South County that would allow marijuana collectives.”



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Woman gives birth on 22 freeway

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An Orange County Fire Authority firefighter carries a baby to a waiting ambulance after the mother gave birth inside a vehicle on the side of the 22 freeway early Wednesday.

SANTA ANA – A woman gave birth on the side of the 22 early Wednesday, according to officials.

Orange County Fire Authority responded to the roadside delivery on the westbound 22 near the Main Street exit at 12:26 a.m.

The woman’s husband was driving the woman to the hospital, when they realized they were not going to make it. Officials did not say whether the child, the woman’s fourth, is a boy or a girl.

She was one day overdue, officials said.

“With each delivery, most of the time, babies are delivered quicker,” said Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

When fire personnel arrived, the woman had just given birth in a car on the right shoulder. Firefighters cut the umbilical cord and wrapped the baby up before taking the infant and the mother to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Concialdi said.

Authorities said the baby’s condition is “outstanding” and the parents had not named the child as of Wednesday morning.



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Son arrested in mother’s stabbing death

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Anaheim police investigate after a woman was fatally stabbed at an apartment on South Ninth Street in Anaheim around 7 p.m. Sunday.

ANAHEIM – Police have arrested a man on suspicion of killing his mother in a stabbing Sunday night.

Gabriel Ramirez, 21, was booked in the Anaheim Police Department’s temporary detention facility, Lt. Bob Dunn said. He is suspected of stabbing his mother, Margarita Esquivias, 42, who died of her injuries Sunday, police and the Orange County coroner’s office said.

Ramirez called police to an apartment in the 1600 block of South Ninth Street around 7 p.m., Dunn said. Over the phone, he told authorities that he had stabbed his mother to death, Dunn said.

He was taken into custody, and his mother was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, where she died shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Lt. Tim Schmidt said police recovered the weapon used in the stabbing.

Ramirez was being held in lieu of $1 million bail, jail records showed.

Register staff writer Eric Hartley contributed to this report.



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Police: 2 men stole $900 of pills from San Juan pharmacy

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Orange County sheriff’s deputies responded to a Vons grocery store, 32401 Camino Capistrano, around 10 p.m. Monday. Officials said they believe the two entered the grocery store, which was open until midnight, and pried open the pharmacy door, setting off an audible alarm, said Lt. Jeff Hallock.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – Police say two men broke into a closed grocery-store pharmacy Monday night and stole about $900 worth of prescription painkillers.

Orange County sheriff’s deputies responded to a Vons grocery store, 32401 Camino Capistrano, around 10 p.m.

Officials said they believe the two entered the grocery store – which was open until midnight – and pried the door to the pharmacy open, setting off an audible alarm, said Lt. Jeff Hallock.

The men stole four bottles of painkillers. One man attempted to distract the store manager, who was standing at a nearby check stand while the other smuggled the drugs out of the store, Hallock said.

Officials said the manager saw the man taking the pills outside and yelled at him to stop, which prompted the second man to run out of the door.

Witnesses told police the men ran to a dark-colored sedan with tinted windows parked on the far end of the lot, Hallock said.

A pharmacist estimated the value of the medication at about $900, Hallock said.

One of the thieves is described as 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inch tall, with a medium build. The second is described as 5-foot-8, with a medium build.

Anyone with information about the crime can submit an anonymous tip through the Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS or text “OCCS” plus your tip to 274637.



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Swastikas spray-painted on Seal Beach storefront

SEAL BEACH – Police are trying to determine who spray-painted swastikas in front of a massage parlor Saturday night.

A window was broken at the storefront of Massage Envy between 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday, and swastikas and the words “Happy endings” and “White PPiDS” were painted, according to Seal Beach Police Department spokesman Sgt. Phil Gonshak.

No suspects have been identified, police said.

Massage Envy is in a shopping center just off the 405, near Rossmoor.

Gonshak said the crime was discovered Sunday morning by an employee opening up the shop. The store had held an employee Halloween party the night before, he said.

The damage was listed at $1,500.

“With the safety and security of the location’s members, guests and employees being a top priority, the location has been closed until the investigation is complete and damage to the premises is repaired,” according to a statement from the Arizona headquarters of Massage Envy.

The statement said normal operating hours are expected to resume Tuesday.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in our district, and I’m just surprised that we had it,” said Seal Beach Mayor Gary Miller, who represents the district that includes the shopping center.

The department is not yet investigating the incident as a hate crime under state law because there doesn’t appear to be a link between the content of the symbols and the victim of the crime, Gonshak said.

“The victim himself has to fall under one of the seven characteristics listed in the penal code,” he said.

Those characteristics include nationality, race or ethnicity, religions or sexual orientation.

Seal Beach hasn’t had a hate crime in five years, since an attack on a Salvadoran man, Gonshak said.

The Seal Beach Police Department is requesting anyone with information related to Massage Envy incident call them at 562-799-4100, ext. 1109.



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Man suspected in Hawaii homicide arrested in Huntington Beach

orange county bail bondsHUNTINGTON BEACH A man suspected in a homicide in Hawaii has been arrested in Huntington Beach, authorities said.

Deputies from the U.S. Marshals Service and Huntington Beach police apprehended John Nichols, 41, on Tuesday at a residence on Sunbreeze Drive. He is being held in the Orange County Jail pending extradition to Maui, Hawaii.

In January 2012, Nichols was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of causing the death of another person by operation of a vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Shortly after being released from custody in his initial arrest, Nichols left Maui, the U.S Marshals Service said.

Earlier this month, Maui police received information that Nichols may be using the alias Ricky Johnson and residing somewhere in California. He was eventually tracked to Huntington Beach and arrested.



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