David Claire Lohr, man accused of pouring bleach into freezers at South Bay grocery stores Feb 2019

David Claire Lohr. (Photo courtesy FBI)

A 48-year-old transient was arrested last week on suspicion of pouring bleach on goods at grocery stores in the South Bay and West Los Angeles and has faced similar charges in Orange County and elsewhere, federal authorities said Monday.

A man identified in a criminal complaint filed this month as David Claire Lohr was seen on security video picking up bottles of bleach at markets in Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Westwood and West Hollywood, where customers later complained of smelling bleach from frozen items, authorities said. In other cases, the defendant’s middle name has been spelled as Clare.

Lohr was arrested Wednesday in the Northern California city of Sunnyvale after he was allegedly seen dumping hydrogen peroxide and a white powder that turned out to be salt on a public bus, authorities said. He is also suspected of pouring hydrogen peroxide on or near rotisserie chickens at a market in the same city.

Lohr was charged with tampering with and attempting to tamper with consumer products in connection with the Southern California incidents, and may also face charges in Northern California.

The alleged crime spree began Dec. 14 at a grocery store in Manhattan Beach, where Lohr was seen emptying a bottle of bleach in a refrigerator with cases of beer, according to a criminal complaint.

Two days later, a woman complained to the manager of a grocery store in Redondo Beach that a bag of ice her son was carrying smelled like bleach. They then watched part of the boy’s black shirt turn brown, the complaint states.

An employee tasked with discarding 20 bags of contaminated ice from a freezer got a headache because the fumes of bleach were “overwhelming,” according to the affidavit. At least one of the bags was punctured. An FBI agent checked security video from that day and saw Lohr picking up a bottle of bleach and entering the frozen aisle with it.

The next day, Lohr was seen on camera dumping a bottle of bleach in the ice section of a market in Westwood, where employees threw away as many as 40 bags of ice that were tainted, the complaint says.

Weeks later on Jan. 20, a customer at a grocery store in West Hollywood complained about a tray of frozen shrimp smelling like bleach, according to the affidavit. An employee found a bottle of bleach in the frozen section and had to as many as 30 bags of seafood. Lohr was again seen carrying a bottle of the bleach into the aisle on security-video footage.

The FBI said it is not aware of anyone falling ill because of the incidents, but asked anyone who may have been sickened to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Officials said Lohr has faced similar charges in Orange County and Maricopa County, Ariz.

In April 2016, Lohr was charged with vandalism and petty theft involving ice and a toilet at a Rite Aid store in Orange County and was accused of the same charges in connection with ice at a Ralphs market in Orange County, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Last year, Lohr denied tampering with goods at six Target stores in the Phoenix area, telling a local news station he did nothing wrong and was just trying to clean “invisible chemicals” from a freezer case, according to a Fox 10 News report.

Officials did not say which grocery stores in the South Bay and West Los Angeles were victimized, but a criminal complaint notes they sold Kroger Brand products. Kroger Brand is carried at Ralphs markets.

Ralphs spokesman John Votava did not specify which markets were affected, but said in a statement that “customer safety is our first priority and immediate action was taken to remove and destroy any tampered packages.”

“We are grateful that Ralphs Investigators’ sophisticated technology and quick work by law enforcement led to the identification and arrest of the suspect,” the statement said.

Authorities suspect Lohr may have contaminated products at other stores and said he traveled across the state, taking public transit between cities.

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