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California

Second defendant pleads guilty in 1993 Westlake apartment arson that killed 10

L.A. county D.A. Jackie Lacey
In 2017, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announced the arrest of three suspects in connection with the 1993 arson.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A former drug dealer who played a pivotal role in a deadly arson that claimed 10 lives in a Los Angeles apartment complex in 1993 pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Tuesday, officials said.

Johanna Lopez, who has been in police custody since 2011, pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to 22 years in prison later this year, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Lopez, 54, had been paying the 18th Street Gang for the right to sell drugs in a section of Westlake in 1993 when she ran afoul of an apartment manager who began taking steps to curtail drug sales in her building, according to court records. Lopez urged two gang members to intervene on her behalf, a transcript of a preliminary hearing in her case disclosed.

Soon after, a fire engulfed the complex, which was largely populated by Latino immigrants.

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In 2017, Los Angeles Police arrested Ramiro “Greedy” Valerio, 43, and Joseph Monge, 41 and charged them with 12 counts of capital murder. A fourth suspect, whose identity was never revealed, is believed to have fled to Mexico. The murder counts included the 10 people killed in the fire and the fetuses carried by the two pregnant women who died, prosecutors said.

Monge, an 18th Street Gang member, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this month. Valerio is due in court in late March, records show.

The blaze, one of the worst arson fires in the city’s history, killed three women and seven children: Olga Leon, 24, and her three children — Rosia, 7, Jesus and Jose, both 4; Alejandrina Roblero, 29, and her three children — Leyver, 11, William and Yadira, both 6; and Rosalia Ruiz, 21, and Lancy Mateo, 1.

The fire started on the second floor of the complex and spread rapidly because a number of safety doors had been propped open, fire officials said in the weeks after the blaze. The complex had been repeatedly cited for safety violations, including having dysfunctional smoke detectors.

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The inferno’s sudden spread left residents frantic to escape. Some formed human chains to help older neighbors escape, and in some instances, parents threw their children out windows, hoping someone would catch them. One man watched in horror as his wife and three of his children ran into the smoke, where they perished.

More than 100 residents were displaced, and at least 40 were injured.


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