News briefs

Homicide inquiry opens after body found by road

The death of a 16-year-old girl whose body was found near Tagus is being investigated as a homicide.

The body of Molly Ervin of the Visalia area was found about 3 p.m. Tuesday at Avenue 264 and diagonal 94 in a rural area north of Tulare. A driver made the discovery.

An autopsy on Wednesday showed that Ervin died of asphyxiation, according to the Tulare County Sheriff's Department.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at (559) 733-6218.

Three Visalia teenagers report armed robbery

Three Visalia teenagers told police they were victims of a home-invasion robbery late Wednesday, officials said.

Three or four men armed with guns entered the victims' apartment on the 4700 block of West Caldwell Avenue about 11 p.m. and fled with cameras and other items, Visalia police reported.

32 held in crime sweep

A 10-hour gang sweep by Fresno police resulted in the arrest of 32 people.

Twelve gang members were taken into custody during the sweep, from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 2 a.m. Thursday, police said.

This is the 27th gang sweep this year in southeast Fresno; the sweeps have helped to reduce violent crimes by 23% in the area, police said.

Aluminum-filled car at nursery leads to arrest

Madera County sheriff's deputies spotted a car filled with aluminum Wednesday at a nursery near Madera.

Richard Lee Goodman, 50, of Fresno was already out on bail on a drug violation when he and a second man, identified as Michael Cole Brown, 26, were seen at a nursery in what was described as a suspicious vehicle. Brown is on parole for vehicle theft in Fresno County.

Deputies were sent to the nursery near Avenue 18 and Road 23 where they discovered Goodman and Brown milling around. When deputies arrived, Brown tried to drive away -- running over pylons and slamming into a fence before escaping, authorities said. He was last seen driving a white Chevrolet Impala.

Goodman was taken into custody. He was booked on suspicion of vandalism, committing a felony while on bail, resisting arrest, receiving stolen property, possession of drug paraphernalia and conspiracy.

Anyone with information about Brown is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at (559) 675-7770 or (800) 560-4911. Callers can offer anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-STOP.

2 jailed after traffic stop

A Bass Lake man and a Madera woman, both parolees, were jailed by Madera County sheriff's deputies late Wednesday after their vehicle was stopped by officers in Madera.

Thomas Byrum, 36, and Glenda Toschi, 39, were in a truck reported stolen Monday in Oakhurst when they were stopped.

A deputy initially pulled the pair over for a vehicle code violation on Rhine Drive in Madera.

When a deputy told the driver to turn the engine off, Byrum told him he needed a screwdriver to comply.

Byrum said he borrowed the vehicle.

Byrum was booked into Madera's Department of Corrections on suspicion of vehicle theft and parole violation. Glenda Toschi, who goes by numerous names, was jailed on felony parole violation. She was on parole for vehicle theft.

Laborer robberies linked

Two pairs of farmworkers were robbed Wednesday in separate incidents near Earlimart that investigators think are connected.

In the first case, about 6:45 a.m., workers Pedro Sanchez and Arnualfo Espinoza of Delano told Tulare County sheriff's deputies they were working in a vineyard near Road 128 and Avenue 24, southwest of Earlimart, when two men drove up and confronted them. One man was armed with a gun, the other with a knife. The bandits demanded cash and got away with $9 from the workers, neither of whom were harmed.

About 15 minutes later, at Rossi Road and Cable Street at the south edge of Earlimart, deputies believe the same two robbers robbed another duo of workers in an almond orchard. The workers, Daniel Villa Almanza and Alfredo Alejandre, told deputies the pair drove up, pointed pistols and demanded money. Neither man was harmed, but the robbers got away with about $375.

Firefighters working to protect Generals Highway

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park are working to cut fire lines to protect the historic Generals Highway from the growing Hidden fire.

The fire, sparked by lightning on Sept. 10, is estimated at more than 800 acres in mountainous terrain about 12 miles north of Three Rivers, in the Kaweah River drainage.

Fire officials say that the area, a thick, tinder-dry mixed-conifer forest at an elevation of about 6,500 feet, has not been burned for more than 80 years, providing high potential for the fire's growth.

So far, nearly 400 people have been assigned to the fire.

The fire was about 30% contained Thursday. Fire managers hope to have the fire 100% contained within fire lines by the end of September, said Kate Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team overseeing the firefighting effort.