12 of the most read Valley Sun stories this year

When it comes to news our readers were interested in this year, crime stories came out on top. But that’s not the only genre LCF residents and readers were interested in — below is the top Valley Sun story of each month in terms of pageviews. The list also includes stories about the death of Allen Lund, discovery of a male mountain lion living in the Verdugo Mountains and news of a resident winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry.


Following two home invasion robberies in LCF, Capt. Christopher Blasnek wrote to the Valley Sun to respond to residents’ concerns.

“I have read many emails circulating throughout the city recently. While I understand where some of the comments come from, I feel it is important to arm you with facts. Regarding Part 1 serious crime in La Cañada Flintridge, I report monthly in person at the City Council meeting. Most people who attend know that crime is low. Murder, rape, assaults and robbery are usually reported to be zero. There are few other cities that can boast such numbers.”


18-year-old La Cañada High student was arrested
An 18-year-old La Cañada High student was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment and allegedly selling prescription drugs to a minor in an incident thought to be connected to the hospitalization of a La Cañada High School junior. File Photo

An 18-year-old La Cañada High School student was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment and allegedly selling prescription drugs to a minor in an incident thought to be connected to the hospitalization that morning of a La Cañada High School junior, officials reported.

Dax Shmidt was taken into custody and booked at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station after a search of his residence and vehicle turned up loose pills, according to Dep. Eric Matejka, who said Shmidt is a La Cañada High student.

“They appeared to be Xanax,” the deputy said of the pills recovered from Shmidt’s vehicle.


In an email sent out to parents, La Cañada Unified School District Supt. Wendy Sinnette confirmed a La Cañada High school student was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats, although the arrest was not made on any LCUSD school campus.

“Within the last 24 hours, an LCHS student was detained under California Penal Code Section 422 for making criminal threats,” Sinnette said in the email. “We are being vigilant in monitoring the safety and security of students and staff and taking immediate and appropriate measures, both proactively and in response to any dynamic situation.”


Allen Lund
Allen Lund, founder of the transportation brokerage firm Allen Lund Co. It was announced in early April that Lund had recently died. Courtesy of the Lund family

In early April, Allen Lund, known in the Foothills as a “gentle giant” who built a highly successful transportation brokerage with offices across the nation and gave generously to further the education of others, died, according to a brief statement released by his company.

“Just recently diagnosed with a very rare and fast moving cancer, Allen was surrounded by family and friends as he said his goodbyes,” stated the news release issued by the La Cañada Flintridge-based corporate office of the Allen Lund Co. The exact date of Lund’s passing was not given, but it was announced that a funeral mass had been set for April 14 at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.


La Cañada Flintridge found itself in the center of a media maelstrom after posts on Twitter and Facebook claimed a Starbucks employee handed a Latino customer beverages labeled with a racial slur where the man’s name should have been.

According to reports, the man received a drink order at the Starbucks on Foothill Boulevard and eventually saw the computerized label bore the name “Beaner,” a derogatory term used against Latinos.

Precise details were not made public by reliable sources, but a sheriff’s report for a possibly related incident of graffiti — involving someone writing “BNR” on the window of the coffee shop in a white polish — included an interview with the employee.


Attempted carjacking
A 19-year-old Los Angeles resident and self-described gang member attempted to steal a vehicle from the La Cañada Ralphs grocery store Friday night with a woman and her 8-year-old daughter still inside. La Cañada Valley Sun

An alleged gang member was in custody at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station after reportedly attempting to steal a vehicle at the La Cañada Ralphs grocery store with a woman and her 8-year-old daughter still inside.

Watch Commander Lt. DeMarcus Smith said the station received a call indicating an altercation, possibly an incident of domestic violence, was taking place in the grocery store parking lot.


Eight months after the death in October 2017 of P-41 — the first adult male mountain lion documented living in the Verdugo Mountains above Glendale and Burbank — from rodenticide poisoning, there was a new puma in town.

On June 19, camera traps captured images of an adult male mountain lion traveling in close proximity to an untagged female nicknamed Nikita, who’d earlier mated with P-41 and produced multiple litters of kittens, none of which survived in the wild.

A picture of health with an apparently unblemished coat and white teeth, the newly spotted male was nicknamed Adonis by conservationists and the wildlife photographers-turned-citizen-scientists whose cameras caught the first dazzling images of the newcomer.


Josh Hanson and Kate Cullen
Josh Hanson and Kate Cullen, both graduates of La Cañada High School, moved to Idaho in 2016 and launched their own vodka brand in February. Photo by Meredith Dean

In the years following their 2010 graduation from La Cañada High School, Kate Cullen and Josh Hanson tried their hand at several jobs in Los Angeles’ business sector — bookkeeping and finance, management and IT — but nothing seemed to stick.

In 2016 the couple, who began dating as high school seniors and had stayed together through college, started to talk about leaving L.A. for someplace more secluded and outdoorsy.

Though Hanson and Cullen, both 26, had chosen Idaho for its wide open spaces, outdoor recreational opportunities and a change of scenery, it wasn’t until they took a tour of a brewery and distillery in the small city of Ketchum they would become inspired to embark on a business venture of a lifetime.


Two people killed in a wrong-way crash along the westbound 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge were identified by the Los Angeles County coroner.

Bruce Alvarenga, 24, of Panorama City and Kevork Khamisian, 32 of Sun Valley were the two drivers killed in the crash, according to the coroner. No one else was involved in the crash.

Just before 2 a.m., CHP officers got a call about a wrong-way driver traveling eastbound along the westbound 210 Freeway near Wheatland Avenue in Lake View Terrace, CHP Sgt. Manuel Rodriguez said.

Two CHP units were responding to that call and trying to catch up with the driver when another call about a crash came in “shortly after,” Rodriguez said. It’s unclear how much time passed between that initial call and the actual crash, which happened about 10 miles away.


The Royal Swedish Academy of Science awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry to three scientists who have harnessed power and sped it up, allowing them to create never-before-seen chemical reactions in a process called directed evolution.

Claes Gustafsson, chairman of the 2018 Nobel Committee for Chemistry, called their work “a revolution in evolution.”

“Our laureates have applied the principles of Darwin in the test tube and used this approach to develop new types of chemicals for the great benefit of humankind,” he said.

Frances Arnold, a La Cañada Flintridge resident of 17 years and biochemical engineer at Caltech, was awarded one half of the $1.01-million prize for conducting the first directed evolution experiments in 1993. Her work has led to the creation of more environmentally friendly ways of making drugs, agricultural chemicals and fuels, among other products.


State Sen. Anthony Portantino
State Sen. Anthony Portantino speaks at a press conference in Pasadena's Arlington Garden revealing the state's adoption of the final EIR that favors street improvements over an eight-lane tunnel to complete the 710 Freeway. Courtesy of the office of state Sen. Anthony Portantino

A street-improvement alternative to complete the 710 Freeway gap has been selected over a multibillion-dollar, eight-lane tunnel project, according to the final environmental impact report for the project revealed about a month ago in Pasadena.

Signaling an end to the six-decades-long conflict over how to close the freeway, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and state Secretary of Transportation Brian Annis held a press conference in Arlington Garden — a public space that lies in what was the originally intended path of the 710 extension from its terminus in Alhambra.

“I’m ecstatic that the EIR was finally signed bringing closure to this six-decade 710 fight,” Portantino said in a prepared statement. “Generations of neighbors on both sides of this issue passionately pushed their perspectives, and now we can all turn our attentions to collaboratively solving local transportation needs.


Catherine Vuolo Erskine
Catherine Vuolo Erskine, a longtime La Cañada resident, died in late November. Courtesy of the Erskine family

Catherine Vuolo Erskine, a longtime resident of La Cañada, died after a long and valiant battle against cancer. She was 59.

Erskine was active as a parent volunteer in a range of organizations around the community, where she raised four children. In particular, she was a member of the site council at Palm Crest Elementary, responsible for student safety and emergency preparations. Teachers there remember her for her humor, people skills and sly “Mona Lisa smile.”

At La Cañada Presbyterian Church, she was the board chair for the popular Parent Ed program in 2006-07, a transitional year between directors. She also served on the search committee that hired the program’s current director, Anne Bierling.