Southern California breaking news and trends

Disturbing photos of classroom 'game' led authorities to teacher accused in child sex abuse case (Updated)

Mark Berndt

L.A. Sheriff's Department

Revolting and disturbing details continue to emerge in the case of a 30-year Los Angeles teacher arrested under suspicion of committing lewd acts on 23 children, including tying them up, putting cockroaches on their faces, and possibly feeding them his semen from a spoon.

61-year-old Mark Berndt was brought to the attention of authorities in October 2010 when a photo processor in Redondo Beach reported images of young children gagged and blindfolded, covered with cockroaches, and consuming liquid from a spoon.

The former Miramonte Elementary School teacher, who was fired in March, was taken from his Torrance home by authorities on Monday following a year-long investigation, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff's department.

The suspect was a teacher of "average effectiveness," according to a Times analysis of standardized test scores,


Tempura storm with a chance of breadcrumbs: Downtown silo explosion sends Panko flour flying

panko tempura flour silos downtown los angeles little tokyo

Screenshot from "Panko Bread Crumbs: The Secrets Revealed" via YouTube

An explosion in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night sent a large cap flying about 150 feet from a flour silo near Little Tokyo. 

The silo, about 60 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter, was being refilled "when excessive pressure apparently cause the top to blow, said the Los Angeles Fire Department, according to the L.A. Times.

No injuries were reported in the accident that occurred at 411 Center St., an address registered to Upper Crust Enterprise, Inc., a 40,000-square-foot plant that processes gourmet Japanese Panko breadcrumbs and tempura batter.

According to Upper Crust's surprisingly watchable informational video, Panko Bread Crumbs: The Secrets Revealed, the facility receives multiple daily deliveries of "a proprietary blend of high protein flour" for their silos.

The downtown location also houses the company's main office and their R&D and quality assurance departments.


LA teacher Mark Berndt charged with sex crimes against 23 children

A longtime L.A. teacher has been charged with a slew of horrific crimes against the children he taught.

City News Service and the L.A. Times report that a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in L.A. County has been arrested for allegedly committing lewd acts on a child, according to the sheriff's department. Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested at his home in Torrance on Monday. He is being held on $2.3 million bail. The allegations involve photographs of lewd acts committed upon about two dozen children between the ages of 7 and 10. The crimes allegedly occurred between 2008 and 2010.

More disturbing details from the Times included that Berndt is accused of "allegedly tying them up, placing giant cockroaches on their faces and possibly feeding them his semen from a spoon," sometimes apparently inside a school.


Controversy grows over UCLA proposed sale of donated Japanese Garden

UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

Photo by Drew Wilder-Goodwin via Flickr Creative Commons

UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

Nothing lasts forever. Not even the meaning of "in perpetuity." Last year, a court ruling allowed UCLA to remove the eternally terrifying clause from a 1964 donation agreement, and the university is now looking to sell its Japanese Garden property.

The proposed sale of the Bel Air 1.5-acre Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is viewed by the university as an opportunity to raise roughly $5.7 million for endowments, programs and professorships, but the move to market is strongly opposed by conservationist groups.

The LA Conservancy and Garden Conservancy say the plan does not include protective measures or maintenance requirements for the garden, and that a single family home could still be built on the agricultural zone.

According to the LA Times, the university has already started removing objects from the site, and plans to keep some significant pieces -- including a Buddha statue and pagoda -- at the Fowler Museum or other locations on campus.


Pinkberry scoop: Co-founder pleads not guilty to tire iron assault of homeless man

Pinkberry Co-founder Arrrested

Reed Saxon/AP

A Pinkberry store is seen in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles.

Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee, accused in the June tire iron beating of a homeless man near a 101 Freeway off-ramp, pleaded not guilty to felony assault in a Los Angeles courtroom on Monday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra granted Lee, who remains free on $60,000 bail, a one-time dispensation allowing him to travel to South Korea, reports the L.A. Times. Lee agreed to automatic extradition should he fail to make his next court date on March 5.

Lee has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a summer 2011 attack on a transient, allegedly over a sexually explicit tattoo that may have been viewed as disrespectful, according to authorities.

Los Angeles police say words were exchanged between the man seeking money and Lee in a rented Range Rover.