Clovis News

Local briefs: Vartanian hearing postponed to March

A court hearing for Krikor "Kirk" Vartanian, facing 16 felony charges involving business dealings at his former luxury car dealership, was continued Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Judge Don D. Penner set a hearing date for March 25.

Attorney Daniel Bacon said he and attorney David Balakian need time to review two boxes of Vartanian's personal and business banking records recently received by the Fresno County District Attorney's Office.

In August, Vartanian, 40, of Fresno pleaded not guilty in Fresno County Superior Court to charges in connection with Auto Gallery in northeast Fresno, which is now closed.

Two get life in prison

Two men were sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for shooting a 19-year-old man to death as he ran for his life.

Tulare County Judge Kathryn Montejano sentenced Angel Carrasco, 19, and Rene Zamora, 21, to prison for first-degree murder and the special circumstances of lying in wait, drive-by shooting and gang murder. They also were sentenced for shooting from a motor vehicle, being in a gang and using a firearm in a crime.

On March 12, 2008, Carrasco and Zamora drove a van into rival gang territory in Visalia and saw Vincent Chapa walking with a friend. Carrasco and Zamora chased Chapa and his friend into a field where they hid. When they thought it was safe, they ran for Chapa's house.

Before Chapa could get to his house, Carrasco opened fire, hitting him in the heart and killing him instantly. Neither Chapa nor his friend were involved in gangs, prosecutors said.

Zamora, the driver, and Carrasco headed toward Hanford but were pulled over and arrested before they left Visalia city limits.

Killer gets life term

Tulare County Judge Joseph Kalashian sentenced Erick Daniel Gonzalez, 33, of Merced, to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday for murdering a man while burglarizing his home, plus 25 years to life for burglary and using a firearm.

The slaying of Roberto Ceballos Alvarez, 26, of Dinuba took place Jan. 27. Returning from a trip to Southern California, he and a friend found three people burglarizing their home. The friend saw Gonzalez shoot Alvarez.

Deputies arrested Gonzalez in Merced the next day. Using phone records, investigators showed that Gonzalez made calls from his cell phone near the burglarized home before and after the murder.

In November, a jury of seven men and five women found him guilty.

Plea in theft case

Fresno resident Nora Arambula, 37, pleaded no contest Thursday to grand theft, identity theft and forgery charges in connection with the embezzlement of $300,000 from a local company.

Based on an agreement between defense attorney Daniel Bacon and prosecutor Mike Elder, Arambula will more than likely be sentenced to five years in state prison at her next court hearing Jan. 21. She has also agreed to pay $367,000 in restitution.

Arambula, who was a 10-year employee of Kroeker Inc., a demolition and recycling service on Chestnut Avenue south of Highway 99, was accused of issuing fictitious checks made out to current and former employees and to others whose identities she made up, and then pocketing that money.

Bacon said Arambula is expecting a child in January and "needs to put this behind her."

Elder said the thefts occurred between June 2004 and early this year.

Police

2-year-old Clovis girl hurt in collision

A 2-year-old Clovis girl suffered major injuries Wednesday night in a traffic collision.

Destiny Diaz was in a car driven by Kelly Fernandes, 28, of Clovis. The California Highway Patrol said that just after 6 p.m. at National and Clovis avenues in a county island inside Clovis, Fernandes failed to yield the right of way to a pickup driven by Billy McCarty, 29, of Clovis. McCarty struck the left rear of Fernandes' car.

Destiny, her 7-year-old brother Dominick of Clovis and Fernandes were taken to Community Regional Medical Center, the latter two with minor injuries. McCarty was not taken to a hospital. No one was arrested.

Fire

Six cats die in blaze

Six cats died from smoke inhalation when a house in Dinuba caught fire, the Tulare County Fire Department reported.

The fire was reported about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday on the 9500 block of Avenue 400. Neighbors told arriving firefighters that the homeowner, a 90-year-old woman, had been taken out of the home.

The fire started in a bedroom and reached the attic. Fire, smoke and water caused about $13,000 damage. The cause is under investigation.

Candle with garland ignites fire in condo

A candle with a garland around it near a Christmas tree caused a fire that destroyed a two-story Visalia condominium and damaged two neighboring buildings.

The fire was reported about 9 p.m. Wednesday on the 1100 block of south Edison Street. The Visalia Fire Department said no one was home when the fire started.

A small dog is missing but may have run away through a sliding door that was left open for the dog.

Damage to the condo was estimated at $250,000, while damage to neighboring buildings was estimated at $40,000.

Also ...

Yosemite groups join

Two nonprofit groups that support Yosemite National Park -- the Yosemite Fund and the Yosemite Association -- announced they are merging.

The goal is to make it easier to support projects and programs that preserve park resources and enrich the visitor experience, the groups said in a statement.

John Tollefson, president of the Yosemite Fund, said the merger will save money, although that's not the primary reason it's being pursued.

The two groups were united until about 20 years ago, when they split.

Since then, he said, people have been confused about why two Yosemite groups exist and what do they do.

The Yosemite Association was established in 1923 to promote volunteerism and education about the park. The Yosemite Fund began in 1988 to raise funds for projects and education in the park.

The consolidation, which must be approved by the state of California, is expected to be completed by mid-2010.

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