WILKES-BARRE — Homicide suspect Oscar Lozano Garcia apparently wandered 2,600 miles to his Mexican homeland after allegedly killing his ex-girlfriend in Hazleton 13 months ago.
It wasn’t far enough to evade American justice.
Lozano Garcia, 36, was apprehended in Mexico on Monday and is being held at a prison in Mexico City pending extradition to the United States, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Wednesday.
“You can run but you cannot hide,” Salavantis said, praising the multi-agency international operation that led to Lozano Garcia’s capture by the U.S. Marshals’ Fugitive Task Force.
Police were seeking Garcia since December 2012, when they discovered the plastic-wrapped body of 32-year-old Maria Brea in the attic of the apartment at 343 E. Diamond Ave., Hazleton, that Brea once shared with her alleged assailant.
U.S. Marshal Martin Pane said that if Lozano Garcia does not fight extradition, the process of returning him to Luzerne County to face trial could take about three months. If the Mexican national does choose to oppose extradition, it could be a year before he is returned to the United States, Pane said.
Lozano Garcia is being held at the Instituto Penal Oriente in Mexico City in the meanwhile, Salavantis said.
Hazleton police Chief Frank DeAndrea said Brea’s family were informed of Lozano Garcia’s arrest on Tuesday.
“They were elated, but they were also extremely emotional and tearful,” DeAndrea said, “knowing it is something that is going to give them a sense of closure.”
According to police reports, family members last spoke to Brea on Dec. 14, 2012, the same day she failed to pick up her children from school.
Brea’s sister, Wendy Rodriguez, told police she spoke with Brea at about 1:30 p.m. that day and that Brea was at home in her pajamas cooking food. Brea had told Rodriguez she had just broken up with Lozano Garcia and was surprised at how well he had taken the news, according to an affidavit.
Rodriguez received a call from the Hazleton Area School District at about 3:35 p.m. notifying her that Brea had not picked up her two children. She could not reach Brea by cellphone, so she picked up the children and took them to Brea’s apartment.
Rodriguez opened the door and found food on the stove, music playing and lights on, but no sign of Brea.
Salavantis said Lozano Garcia was last seen on the steps leading to Brea’s apartment complex. His employer and co-workers reported that he showed up on the day Brea went missing to pick up his check, advising the plant manager that he was returning to Mexico because he had been in a fight with his girlfriend and “the cops are looking for him,” Salavantis said. They observed scratches on Lozano Garcia’s face and arms, Salavantis said.
The cause of Brea’s death was ruled to be asphyxiation due to strangulation.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that Lozano Garcia entered Mexico from a border crossing at Brownsville, Texas, on Dec. 17, 2012, according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
Hazleton police filed an open count of criminal homicide against the missing Lozano Garcia on Jan. 23, 2013. Armed with that warrant, the Fugitive Task Force was able to begin its work.