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Detectives find fresh leads in grandmother's 2009 slaying [Update]

Samantha Sovanasy’s last memory of her mother is of the 76-year old Buddhist kneeling in prayer and meditation on the morning of Jan. 31, 2009, in the Long Beach home they shared for more than a decade.

Sovanasy left for work that morning, and hours later, just after 11 a.m., her brother, who lives in a unit behind the home, made a grim discovery.

He found his mother, Leam Sovanasy, stabbed to death in what police called a “crime of opportunity,” a robbery-turned-homicide.

For four years, investigators didn’t have much to go on. Family members wondered if the case would go cold, if detectives would forget about the Cambodian woman, a die-hard Lakers fan and a single mother who prized family over all else.

But last week, investigators received a lead about a vehicle – a four-door, early '90s model white Chevrolet Caprice Classic – seen in the neighborhood on the day of the crime.

Police canvassed the neighborhood, off North Peterson Avenue and East 14th Street. Volunteers with Long Beach Search and Rescue walked door-to-door in the dense area, filled with fenced duplexes and single-family homes with front porches.

“It’s been four years,” Long Beach police Lt. Lloyd Cox said. “We hope someone might recall the car.”

The canvassing revealed numerous tips from the community, the department said Thursday.

Detectives are now one step closer in the case: They have a sketch of a “person of interest" who was seen driving the car.

Leam Sovanasy raised seven children and left behind 20 grandchildren. She came to the United States from Cambodia in 1979, looking to escape the Khmer Rouge, her daughter Samantha said.

She always stressed the importance of family and would tell her children “to love each other and take care of each other,” Samantha Sovanasy said.  Holidays were a big deal, and Christmas was her favorite.  She loved to cook her own version of Vietnamese pho.

Samantha, Chad, Valerie and James Sovanasy are left puzzled and traumatized by their mother’s slaying.

“It’s affected us tremendously,” Valerie Sovanasy, said. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Mom.”

Chad Sovanasy, who discovered his mother’s body, said it is now difficult to watch Lakers basketball. He remembered her enthusiasm for the team – the way she would set an alarm for the games and dress up in a jersey. No one could block the television when the players were on, he said.

“I just don’t understand,” he said. “I just wish I could ask the person, why did you do that to my mom? Why?”

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call Long Beach homicide Dets. Teryl Hubert or Mark Bigel at (562) 570-7244.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo, above: Search and Rescue volunteer Mitchell Armstrong, 16, passes out a flier to Alex Aguilar in a Long Beach neighborhood. The volunteers handed out fliers in an attempt to spark tips about the stabbing of 76-year-old Leam Sovanasy in 2009. Credit: Cheryl A. Guerrero, Los Angeles Times

Sketch, below: A composite of a man seen driving a car seen on or around the day of the murder. Credit: Long Beach Police Department

[Update, Sept. 13, 2013:  Freddie Battle, 25, was arrested Sept. 5, and Dontae Davis, 24, was arrested Sept. 6 on suspicion of murder and robbery. They are due in court Sept. 23.

Long Beach police make two arrests in 2009 killing]

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