clear sky


Laguna Beach

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.

Police Files

Logan Street gang members arrested during high risk traffic stop on Ramona Boulevard

At 8:39 p.m. on Wednesday, December 27, on the 600 Block of Ramona Boulevard, officers were alerted about a 1998 Lexus 400 that had been reported stolen heading inbound on Laguna Canyon Road. A high risk (felony) traffic stop was conducted. 

Six occupants were found to be inside the vehicle: two adult men, Allen Moreno (23) and Jonathan Duran (20), along with two juvenile boys and two juvenile girls.

All occupants of the vehicle were from Santa Ana, with the four men admitting to being members of the Logan Street Gang. Upon a record check, Moreno, the driver of the vehicle, was found to be on active parole. No bail was issued. 

Duran, who was found to be in possession of six grams of methamphetamine, was released after booking.

The juveniles ranged in age between 13 and 16, and were issued citations for possession of alcohol.

High risk traffic stops, according to’s video, demand three fundamental steps: compensate for the risk, control the threats, and conduct a safe traffic stop. Having a plan and training to the plan are paramount when it comes to officers facing situations such as these.

Fire Files

Fire inside Central restaurant leads to evacuations, business closures

On Friday, Dec 29, at around 3 p.m., a structure fire was reported at Central restaurant at 361 Forest Avenue. Laguna Beach and Newport Beach Fire Departments quickly responded and the area was cordoned off, causing severe traffic congestion for hours. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Ellen Coleman-Germano

According to reports, Friday’s fire originated in the walls of Central’s kitchen

At this time, it is not clear as to the exact cause of the fire, but reports coming in to emergency dispatch mentioned that the flames were in the walls of Central’s kitchen. 

Neighboring businesses in the building, including The Vault and the Hudson Salon & Spa were evacuated, and, according to owner of the Hudson Salon, Katrina Martino, power was out for a few hours. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

Firefighters were quickly on the scene

Martino says that the smoke smell took a while to dissipate but thankfully no one was injured, as prompt action by LBFD and NBFD ensured that the fire did not spread.

No closures of businesses due to the fire occurred the next day, except for Central, which will remain closed for a few weeks while repairs take place, according to sources.

Stu News will update this report as more information becomes available.

Police Files

Multiple guns stolen from home on Coronado Drive: fingerprints might provide DNA evidence

At 8:07 p.m. on Saturday, Dec 30, an officer took a burglary report from a resident at the 1200 block of Coronado Drive. Sometime between Dec 25 and 30, an unknown suspect pried open an exterior bedroom door and stole three firearms and an Xbox.

According to the logs, DNA was obtained on the scene.

“This case was just given to the Investigations Division and [is now] an active investigation,” said Sgt. Jim Cota of the LBPD.  “DNA can be someone’s handprint, saliva off a cup, even a fingerprint.”

We wonder how many burglars and would-be burglars realize how far the science of DNA has come in recent years. 

12 pairs of designer glasses snatched from tented house, also on Coronado Drive

Laguna residents, also in the 1200 block of Coronado Drive, left on vacation between Dec 21-23 and had their house tented for termites. When they returned, they noticed that a box of 12 designer prescription glasses had been taken from one of their vehicles inside the garage. The approximate loss is valued at $40,970.

“War on trees” continues

Two eucalyptus trees on a property located in the 31000 block of PCH were cut down sometime on the night of Wednesday, Dec 28.

“The property manager stated that when he returned to the property on Thursday Dec 29, two of the eucalyptus trees on the property had been cut down,” Sgt. Cota stated. “The trees were located on the hillside approximately 50 yards from the house. The estimated value of the trees is $400.”

Detectives are looking into whether a dispute over a view was at the heart of this incident. They will be looking into the matter to see if it is a criminal or civil matter.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A recent victim of the “war on trees,” this eucalyptus was poisoned and had to be cut down by the City

Don’t let possible buyers take your car for a test drive or this could happen to you

On Wednesday, Dec 27, on the 3200 block of Laguna Canyon Rd., two people took a 1999 Ford for sale on a “test drive” and did not return – they must have liked its performance. It was located out of town in Westminster shortly before 5 p.m.

“People selling their cars need to be cognizant who they are selling the car too and never let someone take the vehicle for a test drive alone,” advises Sgt. Cota. “If you choose to let someone take it, retain their driver’s license and take a photograph of them. A cash deposit would also be a great deterrent as well.” 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

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. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: for questions about advertising


Email: with news releases, letters, etc.


© 2019 Stu News Laguna - All Rights Reserved.