Two friends, both convicts, and five missing women

Steven Gordon and Franc Cano were best friends – and the only link between four women who suddenly went missing in Orange County.

Both men held a troubled past. Both had been convicted of sex offenses. Both were separated from their families in some part because of their crimes, and both wore GPS anklets so law enforcement officials could keep track of them.

Franc Cano
Steven Gordon

They were convicted child molesters and transients, living out of a vehicle in Anaheim’s industrial neighborhoods. They went by mostly unnoticed, even as police continued to search for three missing women whose only link to each other at the time was their disappearance and their ties to prostitution.
Continue reading “Two friends, both convicts, and five missing women”


Released from jail but still a suspect

Eder Herrera was in handcuffs hours after his mother and brother were stabbed to death in their Yorba Linda on Oct. 25, 2011.

Facing two charges of murder, the 24-year-old street sweeper maintained his innocence during the three months he spent behind bars.

Then, on Feb. 1, 2012, Itzcoatl Ocampo, a suspected serial killer charged with the deaths of four homeless men, told investigators he was also responsible for the deaths of Herrera’s family.

Ocampo described in detail how he snuck into the home with plans to kill the family. He told detectives he stabbed them multiple times with the same knife he used against the homeless men.  He also had plans to wrap an extension cord around Eder Herrera’s neck, but Ocampo said the youngest member of the family walked out of the house before the bloodshed began.

More than two years after the deaths, and after charges against Herrera were dropped, but Herrera is wondering why police and prosecutors still consider him a suspect.

Continue reading “Released from jail but still a suspect”

Hazmat coverage

I wasn’t sure I had a story, but I was confused enough to begin asking questions.

What followed were more than 15 articles on mandatory hazardous material inspections that were skipped over a span of five years, and more than $1.7 million in refunds that the county’s largest fire agency would have to issue to local businesses.

The Orange County Fire Authority’s Fire Marshal was suspended and later placed on leave. A few months later she suddenly retired as pressure increased on administrators.

Now elected officials are demanding reform and the Fire Chief is developing a plan to change Orange County’s largest fire agency.

Here are my articles on the topic going back to 2012, and how the coverage of the topic developed.

GPS company left convicts unsupervised

A GPS company hired by the county’s Probation Department to keep an eye on about 300 convicts left more than a dozen of them unsupervised days, sometimes weeks.

It seems many of the probationers using the devices had no idea they were not functioning properly. But when they checked in with their probation officers, officials found several of the devices had stopped sending signals of their location.

The GPS devices are supposed to send the company, Sentinel Offender Services, a signal every 60 seconds telling them where the probationers are. Instead, some of the devices didn’t send a signal for days. Some where found to have stopped sending coordinates for nearly a month.

But it wasn’t just GPS devices that failed.

In one instance, a convict required to take an alcohol-content breath test at his home failed it more than 80 times, but the company never told officials in the Probation Department.

Officials are already working to transition about 300 convicts to another company, but it has raised serious concerns with elected and law enforcement officials.

With a rising population in county jails, local officials across the state are relying more and more on GPS devices and private companies to keep an eye on probationers. Continue reading “GPS company left convicts unsupervised”

Less beds for female inmates


California county jails are seeing the impact of the state’s realignment plan through its jail doors – more men and women are walking through them.

The largest impact has, of course, been men.

The plan has sent several convicts that would have ended up in state prison – or under the auspices of parole officers – to county jails and probation officers. Nearly 90 percent of the added load has been men.

Yet Orange County’s women’s jails have also been severely affected. Sections of the county’s jails that could be used for women are being used to house the increase of men being arrested for new charges, probation violations, or flash incarcerations – 10-day stints used for those not abiding by the terms of their release. Continue reading “Less beds for female inmates”

Reporting a 106-year-old killing


Orange County Undersheriff Robert Squires was killed in 1912. As yet, there has been no photo found of Los Alamitos Constable Juan Orosco, who was killed in 1907, and might have been the first law enforcement officer killed in Orange County.

Robert Squires was long known as the first Orange County law man to be killed in the line of duty. A former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted police, he served as an undersheriff in Orange County when he was gunned down in 1912, and the shootout where he lost his life has made it into county lore and history books.

It’s known as the Tomato Springs shootout, though historians aren’t sure it actually happened in Tomato Springs now. Most people today aren’t even sure where Tomato Springs would have been.

I was writing an article commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the shootout when I called a local historian. He gave me quick warning from the start – be careful calling him the first law enforcement officer killed in Orange County.

We talked about a lawman who may have been killed before Squires, and I made a note of our conversation. He was still gathering facts.

We touched base again in April to talk about his find – a man by the name of Juan Orosco, a deputy constable charged with keeping the law in what was the township of Los Alamitos was killed five years before Squires. Continue reading “Reporting a 106-year-old killing”

Fire marshal suspended over inspection mistakes

Covering breaking news means never knowing what my work day will look like, and covering a variety of topics on a tight deadline. It’s one of the things I love about my work.

Unfortunately, the hectic schedule also means a lack of follow-through for some of the stories that I break as a crime and safety reporter. Doing so means using spare minutes and hours between breaking news to contact sources and check documents to follow-up on topics that should be followed up.

It’s a tight schedule, but completely workable.

When I first broke the story that the Orange County Fire Authority skipped about half of the hazardous material inspections it is responsible for, I knew it was a topic that would not be complete after one story. It is important to understand the internal tows inside the agency as it tried to find out what happened.

And although personnel issues inside the agency are difficult to cover in any public agency (particularly in California), I was able to find out one of the disciplinary actions that were taken inside the agency as it conducted an internal investigation. Continue reading “Fire marshal suspended over inspection mistakes”