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Teenage girl still missing after man wanted in Carson killing is arrested in Mexico

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Alora Benitez, left, who has been missing for two months, was believed to be traveling with Maricela Mercado, center, and Roman Cerratos. Cerratos was arrested last week in Mexico.
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

A man suspected in a Carson homicide was arrested last week in Mexico after a months-long search, but the woman and teenage girl he was believed to be traveling with are still missing, authorities said.

Roman Cerratos, 39, was extradited to Los Angeles on Friday, but charges against him have not yet been filed with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, officials said.

Maricela Mercado, 40, who is also a suspect in the Carson homicide investigation, and her daughter, 15-year-old Alora Benitez, have not been located, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials.

Investigators linked Cerratos and Mercado to the killing of 32-year-old Jeffery Appel, whose body was found April 16 in the front seat of a white Audi parked in the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive. Two days later, sheriff’s officials posted a bulletin asking for the public’s help in finding the pair, who were said to be armed and dangerous.

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Authorities said the two were seen traveling with a teenage girl the morning of April 17 in Torrance in a white 2013 BMW sedan with a plate that read MARIMAR.

That day, Cerratos was stopped by a deputy in nearby Lomita and cited for a DUI warrant, said Sgt. Andrew Gill of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s station in Lomita. He was immediately released after the citation.

Gill said he did not know what vehicle Cerratos was driving when he was pulled over or whether anyone was in the car with him.

“Obviously we wouldn’t have known he was implicated in a homicide, or we wouldn’t have let him go,” he said.

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Authorities found the missing BMW sedan abandoned two days later in the San Ysidro area, a major border crossing to Mexico.

Two months after the car was found, Cerratos was escorted by FBI agents from Guadalajara to Los Angeles, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman with the L.A. County district attorney’s office, said Cerratos was scheduled to appear in a Bellflower courthouse Monday for a probation violation case related to driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to two misdemeanor counts related to the DUI case.

Anyone with information about the case or the whereabouts of Mercado or Alora can call the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips should be directed to Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

City News Service contributed to this report.

alejandra.reyesvelarde@latimes.com

Twitter: @r_valejandra


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