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DNA, luck lead to arrest of transient in slaying of elderly man in his home

DNA, luck lead to arrest of transient in slaying of elderly man in his home
Oceanside resident John Roth was found dead in his home in August in what police think could have been a burglary gone bad. On Monday, police announced they had arrested a transient in connection with the death of the 77-year-old. (Courtesy San Diego Crime Stoppers)

Forensic evidence and a bit of luck led Oceanside authorities to arrest a transient in the slaying of a 77-year-old man, whose wife found him dead when she came home from an overnight work shift two months ago, police said Monday.

Detectives had surmised that the August slaying of John Roth may have happened during a botched burglary. On Sunday they arrested Carey Lamont Reid Jr. in a parking lot near the home of the victim.

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Police said the suspect had left DNA at the scene. On Friday, police learned that the DNA belonged to Reid, a 21-year-old transient, police said.

And then Sunday, someone called to report a person sleeping in the parking lot of a tire shop on North Coast Highway, not far from Roth’s home on Tremont Street.

That person was Reid, who was subsequently arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of murder.

Reid remained jailed Monday and held without bail. His arraignment could be Tuesday, according to online jail records.

Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey called it “a coincidence” and “a strange thing.”

“Things just fell into place,” Bussey said. “We were notified [of the DNA match] and two days later, we get a call of an individual sleeping in a parking lot of a tire shop — and it turns out to be our suspect.”

Also, as it happened, Detective Erik Ellgard, the lead investigator on the Roth case, was working in his office Sunday when Reid was found.

Roth’s death had been a mystery for weeks. Around 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, Roth’s wife, Zui Pang, returned from work and found his body in their home, a three-story duplex on North Tremont Street at Surfrider Way.

Police have not said how Roth died, other than that he had suffered significant trauma to his upper body.

At a news conference in front of Roth’s home last month, Ellgard said it appeared Roth — who had mild dementia — may have been asleep and possibly just waking up when he was killed.

There was no forced entry. Pang came home to find the back door open.

The house had been ransacked, and a number of items were missing, including jewelry and a jewelry box, computer, cellphone and Chinese coins, brass pieces that had oxidized to green.

Four days after Roth’s death, someone found an old purse belonging to Roth’s wife dumped in an alley on North Ditmar off Surfrider. The site is less than a quarter-mile from Roth’s residence.

Items scattered outside the purse included a photo of Roth. The person who found the bag recognized Roth’s photo and called police, Ellgard said during the news conference last month.

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Roth’s wife was the last known person to see him alive, about 1 p.m. on Aug. 13.

Roth was well known in the neighborhood and a regular at a tavern not far from his home.

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