The Homicide Report

The Times chronicles L.A. County
homicide victims

Category: Downtown

Downtown: Sonya Tauanuu, 26 [Updated]

December 7, 2009 |  4:22 pm

The location where Sonya Tauanuu was struck. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood. Sonya Tauanuu, a 26-year-old Samoan woman, died after she was hit by a limousine Thursday, Dec. 3, and dragged nearly a mile from the  750 block of Ceres Avenue in Downtown, authorities said.

[Update: A previous version of this post listed Tauanuu's race as Filipina.]

The driver of the limousine intentionally ran over Tauanuu, who was pronounced dead about 1 a.m. at the scene, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

The incident, which police are investigating as a homicide, began shortly before 1 a.m. when two women began arguing in the 700 block of Ceres Avenue, the LAPD said.

The driver, Nancy Lekon, 43, got into the limousine and allegedly struck Tauanuu, then began driving northeast through skid row, police said.

The limousine, with the body wedged underneath, stopped near 5th and Los Angeles streets. Police said they arrested Lekon on suspicion of homicide.

It was unclear what sparked the argument, police said.

— Robert J. Lopez

Follow The Homicide Report on Twitter @latimeshomicide.

Map: The location where Sonya Tauanuu was struck. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood.


Downtown: Shelia Zaldana, 46

December 2, 2009 |  8:21 am

The location where Shelia Zaldana was shot. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood. Shelia Zaldana, a 46-year-old black woman, was shot and killed Monday, Nov. 23, in the 500 block of San Julian Street in Downtown, authorities said. 

Los Angeles police detectives said the killing may have been the result of a dispute over narcotics and that the victim's 23-year-old son was the original target. (Police gave the victim's first name as Sheila but she was identified as Shelia by the coroner.)

Michelle Cato, 26, was arrested immediately after the shooting on San Julian Street near the LAPD Central Area police station.

LAPD Det. Paul Vernon said Cato and Zaldana lived in South Angeles and while on skid row got into a dispute that investigators believed involved drugs.

"Based on the suspect's criminal background, she was on parole for drug-related convictions, and not living on skid row, we suspect that narcotics was at the root of this dispute," Vernon said.

Moments before the shooting was reported at 3:40 p.m., Cato pointed a gun at Zaldana, "but the gun did not go off," Vernon said.

"As the suspect was walking away, she turned back and fired at the mother and the gun went off, the bullet striking her in the head," Vernon said.

Cato fled south on San Julian Street and then ran west on 6th Street, discarding the small-caliber handgun believed to be the murder weapon on the street, Vernon said.

As she neared the LAPD's Central Division station, with witnesses in pursuit, she ran into a police officer, who immediately detained her.

Vernon said the block where the shooting took place "has more cops and more cameras per square foot than any other block in the city."

--Andrew Blankstein

Follow The Homicide Report on Twitter @latimeshomicide.

Map: The location where Shelia Zaldana was shot. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood.


Downtown: Tommy Jackson, 58

October 19, 2009 |  4:17 pm

The location where Tommy Jackson was stabbed. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood. Tommy Jackson, a 58-year-old black man, died on Thursday, Oct. 15, a day after he was stabbed in the 800 block of East 7th Street in downtown, according to Los Angeles County coroner's officials.

Jackson was fatally wounded after a verbal dispute at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, police said. He and another 58-year-old man began yelling at each other about 8:55 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the hotel said Officer Cleon Joseph, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Jackson was stabbed with two knives, Joseph said. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Officers arrested the suspect at the scene, Joseph said. It was unclear what the relationship was between the men or whether they were guests of the hotel, he said.

-- My-Thuan Tran

Follow The Homicide Report on Twitter @latimeshomicide.

Map: The location where Tommy Jackson was stabbed. Click for the Downtown Mapping L.A. page to learn more about the demographics of the neighborhood.


Downtown: Robert Burrus, 67

August 13, 2009 | 10:21 pm
Robert Burrus, a 67-year-old black man, was slashed several times and died August 1 at a homeless encampment. Credit: LAPDRobert Burrus, a 67-year-old black man, was slashed several times and died Saturday, August 1, authorities said. The incident took place at 6th and Fremont streets in downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles police officers arrested Timothy Bishop, a 50-year-old transient, on suspicion of killing Burrus by slashing his throat with a glass bottle and gouging his eyes out.

Officers found bloody money in Bishop’s pocket that connected him to the crime, said Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Paul Vernon, head of detectives for the Central Division.

The 67-year-old victim’s maimed body was discovered about daybreak by another transient.

“Bishop had gouged Burrus’ eyes out in a belief itBurrusmap would keep the victim from identifying his assailant,” Vernon said.

Police were able to track down Bishop because the transient who found Burrus' body recalled seeing Bishop the night before wearing a bloody leather jacket and carrying money with blood on it.

Officers, with the help of security officers with the Downtown Business Improvement District, tracked down Bishop nearby. Vernon said Bishop had discarded the blood-stained jacket but detectives found it, as well as the bloody money in his pockets.

“We’ve seen it time and again that, in spite of their condition, many of the homeless downtown still have a sense of pride among them that they are willing to come forward and report crimes," Vernon said. “We solve more murders downtown because of it.”

Burrus’ slaying was the fourth in downtown this year and the first this year involving a homeless person killed on the street, Vernon said.

“Mr. Burrus’ murder is a tragic example of how vulnerable the homeless are when they sleep on the street,” Vernon said.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Robert Burrus, a 67-year-old black man, was slashed several times and died August 1 at a homeless encampment. Credit: LAPD

Downtown: Lily Burk, 17 [Updated]

July 26, 2009 |  3:55 pm

LilyburkLily Burk, a 17-year old white girl, was found slain in her car in a parking lot surrounded by warehouses near downtown Los Angeles on the morning of Saturday, July 25, authorities said.

Burk, a student at Oakwood School in North Hollywood, had left her Los Feliz home Friday afternoon about 2:30 p.m to run an errand. More than an hour after picking up exams for her mother, who is an attorney and an adjunct professor at Southwestern University School of Law on Wilshire Boulevard, Burk made separate calls to her parents.

She asked them how to get cash using her credit card at an ATM, police said. Her parents told her to come home.

When she had not returned by 5 p.m., her parents became worried. They contacted Los Angeles police that night. Her body was found in the front passenger seat of her black Volvo shortly after 6 a.m. on Saturday.

Sgt. Miguel Arana of the Los Angeles Police Department said there were signs of a struggle inside the car. Burk appeared to have head injuries from striking the passenger side of the front windshield, but the car did not show signs of having been in a crash, he said.

Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz said that the cause of death appeared to be blunt-force trauma and that there was "strong evidence" that Burk was killed by 5 p.m. Friday. He declined to disclose more details.

Updated 11:30 a.m. Monday: Los Angeles police arrested Charlie Samuel, a 50-year old black man in connection with Burk's slaying. Sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition that they not be named because the investigation was ongoing, said detectives believed the motive was robbery and that Burk appeared to have been abducted from that area.

Samuel was arrested at 5:30 p.m. Friday on suspicion of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia  on 3rd Street in downtown Los Angeles -- at least 12 hours before Lily's body was discovered nearby in her black Volvo at 5th and Alameda streets. While in custody, he was arrested again Sunday at 9 p.m. in connection with the homicide, according to sheriff's jail records. He is being held without bail.

 -- Margot Roosevelt and Ruben Vives

Read more: Girl, 17, found slain in car near downtown L.A.

Police continue search for killer of 17-year old Lily Burk

Suspect in Lily Burk's slaying has history of violent crimes, drug problems, police say

Photo: Lily Burk. Credit: Sarah Faulk


Downtown L.A.: Man, 25, is shot while driving a Bentley [Updated]

February 11, 2009 |  7:46 pm

Jose Macias, a 25-year-old Latino man, was shot several times early Friday, Dec. 12, 2008, while driving a silver Bentley south on the 101 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, authorities said.

He was discovered after passersby reported hearing shots fired about 3:20 a.m.

California Highway Patrol officers arriving at the scene near Mission Road found the two-door 2005 Bentley Continental GT crashed into a highway median and Macias unresponsive in the car. The vehicle was riddled with 10 bullet holes from one or more gunmen, police said.

Macias was taken to a hospital where he died two days later.

"This is a real whodunit," Lt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Central Area Detective Division, said in a news release.  "We’ll have to look into a number of things like the owner of the car and who the driver was to better understand what happened.  What we really need is for someone to come forward with information."

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call Central Area detectives at (213) 972-1203 or (877) 527-3247 after normal business hours. 

—Anthony Pesce

Update: The Times' Paul Pringle and Richard Winton reported July 3 that court records indicated police are investigating whether Macias' predawn shooting was tied to the Mexican dope trade. Michael Angel Aleman, a 34-year old Latino, was arrested June 30 and has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle. His arrest affidavit describes him as a former gang member.

Read more: Bentley driver's slaying in L.A. might have cartel link



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About the Reporters
The Homicide Report is compiled using information from the Los Angeles County coroner's office, local law enforcement agencies and the Los Angeles Times. It is written by Times staff writers.


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