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