On Sunday, November 20, 2016, South Lake Tahoe Police Department officers responded to a report of possible food tampering at the Baja Fresh salsa bar, located in the “Crescent V” shopping center. According to reports, on Saturday, November 19, the unknown suspect distributed an unidentified substance on the salsa. The MO was consistent with a similar incident that occurred at Raley’s, in the same shopping center.
The management at Baja Fresh, after seeing the SLTPD press release regarding the crime at Raley’s on November 16, 2016, contacted SLTPD to report a similar incident, out of concern for the public and their customers. There was a strong chemical odor similar to bleach in the salsa at the self-serve salsa bar. The Baja Fresh manager contacted the police to report the incident. Police officers learned that several previous incidents have occurred at Baja Fresh in the previous two weeks, prior to the initial press release concerning the crime at Raley’s.
One 12-year-old victim reported feeling sick after eating at Baja Fresh on Saturday, November 19, 2016. The juvenile victim was hospitalized at a local hospital, where the juvenile victim received treatment for symptoms related to food poisoning. The victim was in stable condition and released from the hospital.
Based on the similarities in these cases, SLTPD investigators believe the incidents are related. The suspect identified from Raley’s is described as follows: a white male adult, approximately 5’07” tall, with a thin build. The suspect was last seen wearing a black hat, dark sunglasses, a black or dark-colored long-sleeved shirt, black backpack, blue jeans, and black-and-white shoes. The photos shown below are from Raley’s surveillance footage.
The investigation is on-going, to include attempting to get video downloads and photos from Baja Fresh. This is currently in progress and not yet available. This will be released to the public when it becomes available. Investigators have collected numerous food samples from both Raley’s and Baja Fresh, and the samples are undergoing testing at California Department of Justice and Department of Public Health laboratories.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department requests the public’s help in locating the suspect. Please contact the South Lake Tahoe Police Department at (530) 542-6100 or Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800 with any information regarding this case. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department is also advising citizens to be wary of open-source or self-serve food, and to report any suspicious persons or suspicious activity to the police. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department suspect more restaurants and other eating establishments may be vulnerable to similar attacks, and would like the public to be on alert for their personal safety.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department is currently working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the California Department of Health, and the El Dorado County Emergency Management and Public Health Division to advance this investigation.