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March 16, 2015
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers made a surprise discovery at the Otay Mesa border crossing on Saturday: A Mexican citizen was found inside the spare tire compartment of a Nissan Juke.

On Monday, federal prosecutors charged LAPD officer Carlos Curiel Quezada Jr., 34, and his companion, Angelica Godinez, 31, with bringing in a person without presenting them to an appropriate immigration officer at a port of entry, the Los Angeles Times reports. Prosecutors say that when Quezada and Godinez arrived at the border crossing, they showed their passports and said they were headed to Mission Hills, California. The car was inspected by a device that is similar to an X-ray machine, and authorities saw something that looked unusual in the back of the car. When they popped the trunk, officers found Antanasio Perez-Avalos, a "Mexican citizen with no legal ability to enter the United States," U.S. Customs officials said.

Quezada and Godinez both pleaded not guilty, and an LAPD spokesperson said that Quezada has been assigned to his home on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation by the department. Catherine Garcia

May 8, 2014

Rangers at the Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California are so concerned about poaching of the ancient trees that they are restricting access to part of the scenic highway that runs through the (legally) protected old growth giant redwoods. The poachers, who rangers say appear to be largely unemployed and/or drug addicts, don't cut down the entire tree but just carve out the burls, which can fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here's what a redwood burl looks like:

(CC by: Derek Wolfgram)

And here's what a giant redwood looks like with its burl poached:

The burl poaching doesn't kill the trees, some of which have already survived 2,000 years, but it does weaken their defenses so that disease or fire could destroy them. Cruelest of all, the burl is the redwood's primary method of propagation: The burl sprouts a clone of its tree, giving it a type of immortality. This is where the tree got its formal Latin name, Sequoia simper vierens (forever-living sequoia), park interpretation supervisor Jeff Denny tells The Associated Press.

"Originally there were 2 million acres of old growth forest that spanned the coast of Northern California from Oregon to Monterey," Denny says. "Over the past 150 years, 95 percent of that original forest has been cut." Now the remaining 5 percent is threatened by people with chainsaws and all-terrain vehicles. And for what? Burls have beautiful patterns that make for great surfaces on which to put your cup of coffee (or coffee table book) or pint of beer. Peter Weber