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Laguna Beach

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

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

“We have a war on trees [in our town],” says Mayor Iseman after vicious attack kills eucalyptus

In August, an unknown suspect poured gasoline on a eucalyptus tree a block away from Thousand Steps Beach. The fire department responded to absorb the fuel, and a consulting arborist was called in by the city’s Public Works and Code Enforcement departments to evaluate the tree.

“Public Works staff followed the consulting arborists’ recommendations to remove the fuel and periodically visited the site to monitor the situation and evaluate the health of the tree,” said Shohreh Dupuis, director of Public Works, in a letter. At that time, the tree did not appear damaged beyond recovery.

That did not last long. A few weeks later, the foliage turned brown and the canopy began to die. A dozen nails were found in the tree trunk, which were removed immediately. 

“During the follow up inspection, the arborist suggested that the damage caused by the vandalism had systematically affected the tree to a level that was likely to be irreversible,” said Dupuis.

The tree has not recovered and is now dead. The Public Works department is following the City Council’s Public Tree Removal Policy for its removal, as it has become a fire hazard.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A 50-foot tall eucalyptus tree will be removed after a series of attacks killed it

“We have a war on trees going on [in this town],” said Mayor Toni Iseman. Last November, someone cut gashes into five eucalyptus trees in front of Montage Laguna Beach. And in May of this year, several nails were hammered into a tree in the 1000 block of Cortez.

Unfortunately, LBPD is not actively investigating the recent vandalism that killed the eucalyptus tree because they have no leads on the incident.

“If you can prove that a tree was purposely or maliciously killed by a person, a case can be presented to the DA’s office for filing consideration,” explained Sgt. Jim Cota. “A report was generated and Code Enforcement conducted an investigation. If there had been any solid leads on who committed the crime, a report would have been sent to Investigations for assistance in either an arrest or filing a charge with the DA.”

Red Flag Warning issued for Laguna Beach

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning effective through Thurs, Dec 7 at 11:59 p.m. A high wind watch has also been issued where wind speeds between 20-40 mph and gusts of up to 60 mph are possible. Laguna Beach residents should refer to the Ready! Set! Go! Program available on the Fire Department website ( 

Register for AlertOC, the city’s mass notification system, by going to To ensure you are contacted during a Red Flag Warning, please register with the Nixle Red Flag group by texting “LBRedFlag” to 888-777.

Residents should be aware of parking restrictions in the Diamond/Crestview neighborhood during Red Flag Warnings. Any vehicles parked in spaces marked with a “red flag” in the center may be cited or towed.

Fire Files

Firefighters on full alert as Red Flag Warning is extended: “Elevated sense of awareness urged”

The National Weather Service extended the Red Flag Warning for the Orange County Coastal Zone through Saturday, Dec 9 at 8 p.m. Police and fire personnel urge an elevated sense of awareness during these extreme weather conditions.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Kirk Summers reported that LBFD had two engines and two Battalion Chiefs assigned to the Thomas Fire in Ventura County on the fire lines Thursday.

“Closer to home, we have staffed up every available engine, including our wildland engine and our reserve engines, and the rescue squad,” Summers continued. “All but four of our firefighters are on duty in anticipation of the extreme fire weather conditions.”

Jordan Villwock, the city’s Emergency Operations Coordinator, reported that CERT volunteers were posted at Alta Laguna Park this week as a visual deterrent and for public outreach. 

“The PD is using Beach Patrol Officers to maintain a fire watch there during the night,” Summers added. 

The Police Department is also enforcing Red Flag parking restrictions in the Diamond and Crestview neighborhoods.

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Click on photo for a larger image

CERT volunteers on patrol at Alta Laguna Park this week

 “The Great Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council activated their Red Flag Patrol earlier this week, so you might see cars driving around town with red flags,” Villwock said. 

City Council Bob Whalen said that he believed the situation brought attention to the need for undergrounding utility poles along evacuation routes. 

“Over the past few days the wildfires raging throughout Southern California have required over 100,000 to flee their homes in minutes. The speed with which the fires have spread is incredible,” said Whalen said. “Watching people run from their homes underscores for me how crucial it is to all of us in Laguna to underground the utility poles on Laguna Canyon Road and other evacuation routes in the city. This will be the first priority in the city’s undergrounding plan.

“I am confident that voters will understand how crucial this plan is to public safety and will support it at next November’s election,” he concluded.

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy LBFD

Laguna Beach Firefighters were involved in firefighting at the Thomas Fire for 48 hours before getting a break on Thursday

Laguna Beach residents should take this time to evaluate their preparedness levels, Villwock said. He asked that residents refer to the Ready! Set! Go! Program available on the Fire Department website ( 

Villwock also encouraged residents to register for AlertOC which is the City’s mass notification system by going to Residents should make sure to include cell phone number, text number, and email addresses so that they can be contacted no matter where they are. 

In order to ensure they are contacted during a Red Flag Warning, residents should register with the Nixle Red Flag group by texting “LBRedFlag” to 888-777. 

Despite reports of a “purple flag” warning, Summers explained that there’s no such thing. “There is a fire severity scale that uses colors to indicate fire risk in various areas. The purple indicator is fairly new and has made its debut in this weather event.” 

Laguna Beach Police Department now accepting applications for Citizens Academy, deadline Jan 19

The Laguna Beach Police Department is currently accepting applications for the upcoming Citizens Academy. The academy starts Thurs, Jan 25, 2018, and will meet from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for 12 consecutive weeks (the 13th week is graduation). 

Applications will be accepted until Jan 19, 2018. 

This is a non-stress course designed to provide community members with a better understanding of the LBPD and to help foster communication between police personnel and citizens. 

Click on photo for larger image

Graduating Class of 2016

The academy course includes instruction in the following areas: History of the LBPD, investigations, traffic enforcement, accident investigation, driving under the influence investigation, gangs, narcotics, neighborhood watch, crime prevention, crime scene investigation, police K-9 program, volunteer programs, and other relevant topics. 

There will also be a tour of the LBPD and the OC Jail. Academy members will be given the opportunity to shoot at the police firing range and participate in mock scenarios. 

Applications are available on or

For questions regarding this program, contact class coordinator Ross Fallah at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (949) 464-6624.

Police Files

Syringes found near church, preschool

On Sunday, December 3, a bag containing about three dozen syringes and a metal spoon were found in the 300 block of St Ann’s Drive, near Neighborhood Congregational Church and a preschool, Montessori School of Laguna Beach.

“The combination of syringes and a metal spoon usually means heroin use,” explained Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson. They were collected and booked for destruction by officers.

While the police department has located and seized many syringes before, “At church grounds is concerning to the PD,” Cota said. 

“If syringes are located, immediately call LBPD’s non-emergency line [949-497-0701] and have them picked up by officers,” he advised. “They will come as fast as possible, most likely when dispatched.”

Woman arrested for child endangerment while driving DUI

On Friday, December 8, at 9:40 p.m., officers initiated a traffic stop in the area of Thalia and S. Coast Hwy.

The driver, identified as Tatiana Vasilevskaya, 40, Aliso Viejo, was found to be driving under the influence and was subsequently arrested for DUI.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one in the car.

“There were four children inside the vehicle at the time of the vehicle stop, all age 16 and younger,” said Cota. “Aside from being arrested for DUI, an additional charge of child endangerment was added.”

With the added charge of child endangerment, Vasilevskaya’s bail was set at $100,000. 

Fire Files

An update on LBFD on the front lines

Stu News wanted to hear the details about our firefighters on the front line of the Thomas Fire, so we asked Fire Chief Kirk Summers if we could talk to some of the guys – and the answer was no – not because they didn’t want to be interviewed – because, as the Fire Chief explained, with great pride, “They are still up there! They are on the line today after resting yesterday, they are doing 24-hour shifts. I would anticipate that they will be committed to the fire at least through the end of the week and maybe longer. Weather forecasts are predicting continued warm and dry conditions and possibly Sundowners. Many folks up there are expecting to be doing mop-up into January,” he told us.

We are lucky here in Laguna to have such dedicated, hard-working, and courageous firefighters. We’ll be writing the full story of their experiences when they’ve had time to rest – by which time, let’s hope we’ve had some rain.

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of LBFD

Laguna Beach Firefighters will remain at the Thomas Fire, now reported to be burning more than 230,000 acres, through the end of the week

Police Files

Thieves are doing their Christmas shopping in Laguna, it seems – by breaking into cars…

“These thieves are looking for anything visible of value in plain view or vehicles left unlocked,” said LBPD’s Sgt. Jim Cota when asked about a recent string of vehicle burglaries. Whether or not the seven thefts that occurred between Sunday and Tuesday are related is still being investigated.

Sometime late Monday night, two pairs of sunglasses valued at about $1,000 were taken from a vehicle (most likely left unlocked), and $500 worth of Christmas presents were stolen from another unlocked vehicle. One victim noticed items missing from their car on Monday. Two cars on a driveway were searched by a burglar on Sunday, and both were said to have been left unlocked.

One victim’s vehicle was locked on Sunday, but the burglar still managed to steal $500 worth of shoes and clothes. Another strike on Sunday left the victim missing their wallet and $400 in gift cards, and yet another victim’s glove box was riffled through.

“We need to get the message out: remove all personal items of value from your vehicle, and always lock your doors,” Cota said.

Police Files

Pharmacy on wheels: Cops find enormous stash of pills on traffic stop

On Saturday, at around 1 a.m., a driver on Laguna Canyon Road noticed someone driving erratically, weaving and almost hitting the reporting party. Naturally concerned, they called the police. Officers arrived shortly thereafter and began a routine traffic stop. 

They soon realized that they had on their hands a veritable mobile pharmacy. 

“There were so many different pills, it would take half a page to write them,” said Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson. A few of the more popular drugs found upon searching were: marijuana, morphine, oxycodone and methamphetamine. By volume, the most confiscated were 120 Topiramate tablets, 57 Carisoprodol tablets, 40 Hydrocodone tablets, and 30 Suboxone tablets. Despite this impressive array of medications, the driver was not a doctor, and did not have any affiliation with a medical clinic.

The driver, Shauna Kester, 30, Garden Grove, was arrested for two accounts of possession of drug paraphernalia, for being under the influence of a controlled substance, and for possession of a drugs for sale. Bail was set at $20,000. 

This was one of the largest if not the largest pill busts of the year by LBPD, according tos Sgt. Cota.

Police Files

Golf cart driver gets third DUI after fender bender

Last Friday, December 15, a Fullerton resident rear-ended a silver Honda sedan at about 4 p.m. 

When the driver of the Honda approached her about the incident, she offered $20 for the damages, and then fled to a Blue Lagoon condo. The driver called the police after smelling alcohol on the suspect’s breath.

The suspect, Breanne Nicole Budzien, had two prior DUI charges and her license is on probationary status. 


Budzien, 25, of Fullerton, was arrested on DUI charges and later released from LBPD with a future court date.

Police Files

Package thief captured before Christmas

With the massive rise in online retailers, many people do all their Christmas shopping from the comfort of their couch. With the click of a few keys, a package can be delivered to your doorstep – unfortunately making many people an easy target for thieves.

One such thief, who stole packages from doorsteps all over Orange County, including Laguna Beach, was arrested by the Garden Grove PD on Tuesday, December 19.

Anthony Palusso

Photo Courtesy of LBPD

Anthony Brian Palusso was located and arrested thanks to the community and the use of home surveillance. He has prior arrests for thefts as well. 

For future package deliveries, LBPD provided the following advice:

-Require a signature for deliveries and bring packages inside immediately.

-Provide specific delivery instructions to keep packages out of view of the general public.

-Give an alternate delivery address, such as your work or somewhere were someone is present, to prevent packages from sitting on the porch for a long period of time.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

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