Two Northridge college students were arrested in the killing of a Pacoima pastor in a quarrel about a minor traffic accident because they repeatedly tried to use the dead man's credit card to buy wheel rims and tires, authorities said Thursday.
Dana L. Singer, 18, a business major at Cal State Northridge, and Philip J. Dimenno, 19, who has been accepted to UC Santa Barbara on a scholarship, were each charged Thursday with one count of murder in the killing Saturday of Carl White, 54.
The body of White, pastor of the Apostolic Temple Church on Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima, was found Sunday on the floor of his house in the 20100 block of Citronia Avenue in Chatsworth.
Police arrested the suspects Tuesday after an employee of Apollo Tire in the 6900 block of Reseda Boulevard called detectives when the young men returned to the store for a second time, trying to use White's credit card, the store employee said.
"I detained them by telling them I had to get the rims from the warehouse," said the clerk, who asked not to be identified.
"I told them I'd call the warehouse, but I really called the police. The detectives came in about four minutes."
The tire store employee said Singer and Dimenno attempted to buy $1,700 worth of wheel rims and tires with White's credit card Monday but the credit card company rejected the purchase. The clerk quoted the pair as saying that they assumed the amount was over the card's limit and that they would return the next day to make a less expensive purchase.
Meanwhile, the employee said, the credit card issuer notified police that a purchase had been attempted on the card, which had been reported stolen after White's death. Detectives told the employee to delay the young men if they returned. They came back Tuesday to see if the credit card was good for a lesser amount, trying to buy four wheel rims for $1,200, the employee said.
On Thursday, prosecutors and defense lawyers confirmed the employee's account of the arrest. Although the young men allegedly stole White's credit card, they have not been charged with robbery because they did not enter the house intending to rob the pastor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Leland B. Harris said.
Police had learned that the pastor had been in a car accident the night before he was killed but the accident's connection to his death was not known until Dimenno and Singer were arrested, authorities said.
Police said Dimenno was a passenger in his car, which was being driven by an unidentified female friend when it was involved in a minor accident late Friday with a car driven by White. The cars collided after White slowed near the scene of a fatal traffic accident at Winnetka Avenue and Superior Street in Chatsworth, police said.
Dimenno and White exchanged information from their driver's licenses and did not report the accident to police because the damage was minor, Los Angeles Police Detective Michael Brandt said.
Dimenno told police he later became concerned that the pastor might give Dimenno's driver's license number to police, and that he would be arrested on an outstanding traffic citation unrelated to the accident, Harris said. Dimenno and Singer, a friend who was not in the car when the accident happened, went to White's Chatsworth house about 6 a.m. Saturday to demand the number back, Harris said.
Dimenno took along a 9-millimeter pistol to threaten White if he refused to cooperate, Harris said.
During the confrontation, which lasted five to 15 minutes, White reportedly asked Dimenno to pay for repairs to his car and for a rental car, said Dimenno's attorney, Harold Greenberg. But Dimenno was reluctant to pay for the rental car, Greenberg said. During the argument, Singer panicked and fired one shot at White, Greenberg said.
The bullet struck White in the back of the head, Harris said.
Dimenno, who was leaving the house, did not see the shooting, the lawyer said.
"It's obviously not a murder case," Greenberg said. "At best, it's a manslaughter."
Harris, however, said Dimenno was aware that Singer had a gun and that he intended to use it if necessary.
Singer and Dimenno appeared briefly in San Fernando Municipal Court on Thursday for their scheduled arraignment, which was postponed to Aug. 13. Both are charged with one count each of murder.
Bail for the two suspects was set Thursday at $20,000 each, an unusually low amount because murder is generally considered a no-bail charge, Harris said.
However, Harris said, his office did not ask for higher bail because of the defendants' age, their lack of a criminal record and because they live with their parents in Northridge.
Dimenno was expected to post bail by Thursday evening, said his other attorney, Carter L. Phelps. Singer's attorney, James E. Blatt, would not comment when asked if his client would post bail.
According to state Department of Motor Vehicles records, Dimenno received speeding tickets in September and December of 1988 and in February, 1990. Harris said Dimenno had been issued another speeding ticket last month.
He said no warrant had been issued for Dimenno's arrest.
Times staff writer Patricia Klein Lerner contributed to this article.