The smell of bleach was the first clue something was wrong with a bag of ice being sold at a Southern California supermarket in December.
The customer and her son brought the ice to an employee at the Redondo Beach store on Dec. 16 and reported the smell, according to an FBI criminal complaint. The worker took the ice from the boy — and then the mother, son and worker saw the second clue the ice was contaminated with bleach: The boy’s black shirt had turned to brown where he had been holding the bag against his chest, the complaint said.
That store was one of a handful of supermarkets across Southern California where bleach was mysteriously found on ice, food and drinks in freezer aisles and refrigerators from December 2018 to January 2019, according to the FBI.
The man suspected of pouring the bleach on the food and drinks has now been arrested: David Clare Lohr, a 48-year-old transient man, is charged with tampering and attempting to tamper with consumer products in Los Angeles federal court, the FBI said in a news release Monday.
He appeared in federal court on Friday and was expected to make another appearance on Monday, the FBI said.
Santa Clara County deputies arrested Lohr on Feb. 6 at a bus stop in Los Altos — outside of San Jose in the San Francisco Bay area — after authorities in nearby Sunnyvale got reports that a man had been “spreading white powder and hydrogen peroxide aboard a public bus (powder later determined to be salt),” the FBI said.
Deputies then realized Lohr already had an FBI warrant issued Feb. 1, and that the FBI had been actively looking for him.
Northern California authorities soon suspected Lohr’s food tampering wasn’t contained to the Los Angeles area: An investigation revealed that Lohr “had allegedly poured hydrogen peroxide on or near rotisserie chickens at a Sunnyvale supermarket,” the FBI said.
The FBI noted in the complaint supporting the warrant for Lohr’s arrest that bleach can cause a number of serious health problems in those over-exposed to it, including diarrhea, vomiting, skin troubles and nausea.
An FBI agent wrote in the complaint that surveillance videos from the grocery stores in Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and West Los Angeles caught Lohr pouring the chemical — which he took from the stores — onto food and drinks.
Lohr is accused of dumping bleach in a refrigerator holding packages of beer in Manhattan Beach on Dec. 14, and leaving the container on its side in the fridge as the liquid drained onto the products, the complaint said.
Two days later, on Dec. 16, a man resembling Lohr was caught on surveillance video at the Redondo Beach supermarket before bleach was discovered on the Kroger-brand ice the mother and son reported to staff, the complaint said.
When a worker opened the freezer holding the ice, “the bleach fumes were overwhelming,” the complaint said. A small, empty container of the cleaning solution was found on its side in the freezer. Store workers had to get rid of 30 bags of ice, according to the complaint. Handling the bleach-tainted products caused headaches and burning, tingling hands in at least one worker.
Lohr next struck at a Westwood supermarket on Dec. 17, again pouring bleach onto ice, about 35 to 40 bags of which had to be destroyed, according to the FBI.
The last grocery store Lohr is accused of striking — in the FBI complaint, at least — was in West Hollywood, where a customer reported a bag of Kroger-brand shrimp smelled like bleach on Jan. 20, according to the FBI.
Workers had to destroy as many as 30 bags of frozen seafood, and found a bottle of Clorox bleach on its side in the back of the freezer, the complaint said. The FBI agent wrote that surveillance footage showed a man who looked like Lohr in the store at the time.
Authorities said they’re still investigating to see if Lohr may have tampered with products at other stores, but said “there have been no known reports of individuals sickened by Lohr’s actions.” The FBI encouraged anyone who suspects they are a victim to come forward.
Lohr faces similar charges in Oregon and Arizona, and could face state charges in Nothern California, the FBI said.