HAZLETON ‚?? City police on Tuesday charged the ex-boyfriend of a Hazleton woman in connection with her December strangulation death, but the suspect remains at large, most likely in Mexico.
Oscar Lozano Garcia, 35, with a last-known address of 343 E. Diamond Ave., Hazleton, has been charged with an open count of criminal homicide, Police Chief Frank DeAndrea said at a press conference at City Hall.
Police have been trying to locate Lozano Garcia since Dec. 18 ‚?? the day they discovered the body of 32-year-old Maria Brea in the apartment she had once shared with her alleged assailant. Brea recently had ended a relationship with him, police had said, and sought him for questioning; no suspect was named.
After obtaining a search warrant on Dec. 18, police found Brea‚??s body in the attic of her apartment. Her body had been bound with tape, wrapped in plastic and bound with tape again. The door to the attic had been padlocked with Lozano Garcia‚??s padlock and the seam to the door sealed with tape, police said.
Six latent fingerprints found on the tape binding Brea‚??s body were analyzed and compared with a fingerprint card for Lozano Garcia obtained from the Department of Homeland Security. All six prints matched, authorities said.
Luzerne County Acting Coroner Bill Lisman determined the cause of her death to be asphyxiation due to strangulation.
Detective Lt. Ken Zipovsky on Tuesday said he was confident Lozano Garcia is not in Pennsylvania.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that Lozano Garcia entered Mexico on Dec. 17, according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
Family members last spoke to Brea, 32, on Dec. 14, the same day she failed to pick up her children from school and her family reported her missing to police.
According to the affidavit: 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. That was the last time the sisters spoke.
Rodriguez then 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. Brea‚??s daughter called Lozano Garcia‚??s cellphone and no one answered.
Lozano Garcia eventually called Brea‚??s daughter back and, when asked where Brea was, replied, ‚??I left her in the house. Maybe she went shopping.‚?Ě Rodriguez and Brea‚??s children left around 4:30 p.m. and Rodriguez returned at about 5:30 p.m. with Rodriguez‚??s sister, Wendy DeJesus, Brea‚??s daughter and another woman, Aura Santiago.
Lozano Garcia returned a call to Santiago at about 10 p.m., said he had been at work, tried to reach Brea all day by phone and that he would be at the apartment within an hour. She waited until 2 a.m.; he never came.
Police said Brea‚??s and Lozano Garcia‚??s cellphone records showed Lozano Garcia had not called
Brea that afternoon. The records also showed that the pair‚??s cellphones were interacting with cell towers in the same geographical area in the same stretch of time after Rodriguez‚??s last contact with Brea.
According to a neighbor, Lozano Garcia was in the apartment with Brea at 1:45 p.m. Dec. 14 and was still there when the neighbor left for work at about 2:15 p.m.
Lozano Garcia‚??s managers and co-workers told police Lozano picked up his paycheck at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 and told them he would not be returning to work and that he was going back to Mexico because he had a fight with his girlfriend and police were looking for him. Four of them said they saw scratches on his face and arms, according to the affidavit.
They also said he had not worked that day. Lozano Garcia‚??s supervisor told police Lozano Garcia might be going to Mexico with co-worker Juan Cervantes.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said investigators met with Brea‚??s family members Tuesday and updated them on the case. ‚??Of course, they‚??re still devastated over this,‚?Ě she said. ‚??They lost a loved one, and our hearts go out to them.‚?Ě
Lozano Garcia might be driving a red-and-black Chevrolet pickup with a Pennsylvania license plate YYF-5939. He is described as Hispanic, about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 165 pounds with black hair.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call 911.