Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Mass homicide ?
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Gangs
Number of victims: 10 ?
Date of murders: May 3, 1993
Date of arrest: November 26, 1998
Date of birth: 1976
Victims profile: 3 women and 7 children (tenants)
Method of murder: Fire - Shooting
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Status: Charges dropped by insufficient evidence

Rogelio Andrade & Allan Lobos (10+)

On November 26, 1998, Rogelio Andrade and Allan Lobos were arrested and charged with murder for a 1993 apartment fire that killed 10 tenants and injured 40 others. Andrade and Lobos, both 22, were charged with 12 counts of murder -- one for each victim and two unborn children -- and one count each of arson. Not the model citizen-type, Lobos was arrested in a Kern County prison where he is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence for two murders

Seven children, all under age 12 were among those killed in the May 3, 1993, fire in the Westlake district of Los Angeles. Three women were also killed, two of whom were pregnant. The fire was in retaliation against an apartment manager who had begun to report drug activity in the complex to police.

Police received new information in May when an informant arrested in a homicide investigation told detectives he knew about the fire. Authorities said the case was difficult to crack because people were too afraid to give information. "What's difficult about it is that a lot of our witnesses and victims were obviously intimated by the gangs. They didn't want to be the 13th victim," Sanchez said.


Two Members of 18th Street Gang Charged in 10 Murders

Crime: Arson fire killed three adults and seven children in 1993.

James Rainey and Ralph Frammolino - Los Angeles Times

November 26, 1998

More than five years after one of the city's worst arson fires killed three women and seven children in a tenement building west of downtown Los Angeles, prosecutors Wednesday filed multiple murder charges against two members of the notorious 18th Street gang.

Prosecutors said they will attempt to try Rogelio Andrade and Allan Lobos, both 22, as adults for the fire, which they allegedly ignited to intimidate an apartment manager who had tried to drive drug dealers off her property.

The two men pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Eastlake Juvenile Court. The 1993 fire exposed the substandard condition of many buildings crammed with immigrant families in the Westlake-Pico Union neighborhood. A Times investigation also revealed that the Fire Department inspected the area infrequently and haphazardly.

Investigators said they suspected from the beginning that gang members set the deadly fire. But they could not identify the perpetrators until this spring, when a gang member arrested in an unrelated slaying told Rampart Division police that he knew who started the so-called "Burlington fire."

Police arrested Andrade last Friday at his home in Hollywood. Lobos is already in state prison, serving 15 years to life for a 1997 murder in the same neighborhood.

"It was just a matter of time" before the crime was solved, said Thomas L. Derby, an arson investigator for the Los Angeles City Fire Department. "Gang members love to brag about what they did. If you don't catch the person today, you'll get them tomorrow."

Both fire and police investigators said they were particularly determined to find the killers because of the ages of seven of the victims who were 11 or younger.

Arson investigator Joe Sanchez choked back emotion as he read the names of the dead at a news conference Wednesday.

Saying that their work is continuing, investigators declined to discuss the evidence in the case, except to say that details from the informant was corroborated by facts known from the scene.

The informant was not offered special treatment for making his statement against Andrade and Lobos, said Det. Steven Spear, of the LAPD's Criminal Conspiracy Section.

The 69-unit apartment building at 330 S. Burlington Ave. was one of many in the poor Westlake community beset by gang members at the time of the fire on May 3, 1993, authorities said. Just hours before the blaze erupted, the apartment's manager ordered two men out of the building, suspecting that they were dealing drugs.

The flames spread quickly through that hot, late afternoon, left unchecked because a series of fire doors were either propped or nailed open. Most of the victims could not escape the second and third floor hallways, where they suffocated.

Investigators would not say Wednesday whether they believe that the two men driven from the building by the manager were Lobos and Andrade or their associates.

But other LAPD officials confirmed that about the time of the deadly blaze, the apartment building was a hot spot for a lucrative 18th Street gang-controlled drug trade. Drug dealers in the neighborhood were pulling down thousands of dollars a day, much of it coming from the Burlington building, said LAPD Det. Al Kotero, who supervised an undercover team in the area at the time.

Just last summer, a Superior Court judge issued an injunction in an attempt to limit the activities of the particularly violent 18th Street clique that operates in the Westlake neighborhood.

The prevalence of street thugs was just one of the problems besetting the impoverished neighborhood.

Fire Safety Violations

After the fire, a Times investigation found that many of the dozens of apartment buildings crammed into the Westlake-Pico Union neighborhood had not been subjected to yearly inspections by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Many of the buildings had serious fire safety violations, such as missing fire extinguishers and padlocked emergency exits. The Burlington building had earlier been the target of an arson, and inspections had detected a series of safety violations there--but they were not corrected.

As a result of the Burlington blaze, the Fire Department implemented a computerized inspection system to help track building inspections. An inspector immediately was added to the neighborhood's Station 11.

And on Wednesday, the department assigned a five-member task force to step up fire code inspections on older apartment buildings

in the Westlake area. In a week, the group has inspected more than one-third of the 207 buildings targeted for special scrutiny, officials said.

Fire Department officials said the stepped-up enforcement was unconnected to the impending criminal filings against Lobos and Andrade.

Authorities said the duo were hard-core members of the 18th Street gang and had had numerous run-ins with police. The most serious occurred in 1997, when Lobos shot and killed a 16-year-old boy, Alexandro Garcia, who was waiting for a bus to school. A jury convicted Lobos of second-degree murder in February and he was sentenced to 15 years to life for the killing, which he committed within sight of the LAPD's Rampart Division headquarters.

In the Burlington arson, Lobos and Andrade were each charged with 12 counts of murder and one count of arson. They were charged with one count for each child and adult murdered and with two additional counts because Olga Leon, 32, and Rosalia Ruiz, 21, were both pregnant when they died inside the Burlington building.

A hearing will be held next month, or perhaps later, to determine whether the two can be tried as adults. If they are tried outside the juvenile justice system, Lobos and Andrade will be subject to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Civil Case Settlement

The dozens of survivors of the fire, meanwhile, are trying to reconstruct their lives.

A civil case related to the fire was settled three years ago when insurance companies for the building's owner and managers--Richard I. Kaufman and Yale Management Services Inc.--agreed to pay $2 million to the survivors.

After attorneys' fees, some of the survivors got as little as $198. One, Elias Verdugo, who lost three children and his wife in the blaze, received more than $500,000 minus attorneys' fees. He returned to his native Chiapas, Mexico, with the one son he was able to rescue from the fire.

The rest of the more than 100 tenants also have moved, according to the current management. They were either haunted by their tragic memories or by fear that the arsonists might still be out for revenge, said Jose Chavalo, the manager of the apartments since 1995.

Chavalo on Wednesday proudly showed how the apartments have been refurbished with a new sprinkler system, video surveillance, fire extinguishers, fire hoses and exit signs.

Margarita Polanco, who lived in the neighborhood at the time of the fire and helped rescue residents, said she was glad to hear of the arrests, saying that "the innocent often pay for the guilty."


Charges Dropped Against 2 Men in Arson Fire That Left 10 Dead

Crime: Prosecutor cites 'insufficient evidence' against 18th Street gang members in 1993 tenement blaze that hurt 40.

Scott Glover and Matt Lait - Los Angeles Times

January 07, 2000

Murder charges have been dropped against two 18th Street gang members who were accused of killing three women--two of them pregnant--and seven children in one of the worst arson fires in Los Angeles history.

The district attorney's action means that the case, which authorities had declared solved, remains open.

Prosecutors said there was "insufficient evidence" showing that Rogelio Andrade and Allan Lobos ignited the fire, which tore through a tenement on Burlington Avenue west of downtown, injuring about 40 people.

Andrade and Lobos were arrested in November 1998. Charges against them actually were dropped in September, court records show.

"It wasn't clear these were the right guys," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Esposito, who was prosecuting the case. "No one is thrilled with the idea [of dropping the charges], but we don't want to prosecute innocent people."

Esposito said information from witnesses, which prompted the arrests, did not hold up after subsequent investigation.

Lt. Gary Lynch of the LAPD's criminal conspiracy section said a task force made up of LAPD detectives, Fire Department arson investigators and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents remains assigned full time to the Burlington fire case.

"We're continuing the investigation. We've committed a lot of resources to this case," Lynch said.

The lieutenant, however, declined to comment on the investigation's status. He refused to say whether Andrade and Lobos remain suspects.

Investigators believe that the fire was started to intimidate an apartment manager who had tried to drive drug dealers off her property. Officials suspect that gang members were responsible.

Attorney Anthony W. Rayburn, who represented Andrade, said he was not surprised that charges were dismissed but credited the prosecutor with making the right decision.

"It's not easy dropping a 12-count murder case," he said.

Rayburn said he believes that investigators have more credible evidence pointing to other suspects and that other arrests might be pending.

The attorney said his client "is not happy" about being arrested and spending nearly a year in custody before the charges were dropped.

"He's pleased with the results . . . but he paid a tremendous cost for being at the wrong place at the wrong time," Rayburn said.

According to the attorney, investigators have videotape from news coverage of the fire showing Andrade at the scene. Rayburn said his client was only a bystander.

Andrade, who was set free, could not be reached for comment. Lobos, authorities said, remains in state prison serving time for an unrelated murder.

The arson was a particularly emotional case for many investigators, in part because many of the victims were under age 11. One arson investigator choked back tears two years ago during the news conference announcing the arrests

The 1993 fire exposed the substandard conditions of many buildings crammed with immigrant families in the Westlake-Pico Union neighborhood. A Times investigation revealed that the Fire Department inspected the area infrequently and haphazardly. Fire officials failed to follow procedures in forcing the building owner to repair violations that officials said contributed to the 10 deaths.

As a result of the blaze, the Fire Department implemented a computerized system to help track building inspections. An inspector immediately was added to the neighborhood's Station 11.



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