Jagdish Das was watching a hostage standoff unfold on TV about 10 p.m. Tuesday when his phone rang. A man who lives and works at the Landmark Motel, which Das owns, said he smelled a strong odor of what he thought was model airplane glue coming from a unit beneath his. The odor was so strong, the worker said, he couldn't sleep.
Minutes later, the worker discovered a hastily assembled methamphetamine lab in one of the 25 units, and three men who had checked in hours earlier in the unit next door. Das, who also lives in the motel, immediately called police. But by the time authorities arrived, the three men had gathered what they could and fled in a red Dodge pickup.
St. Petersburg police evacuated about 20 guests from the motel, at 1930 Fourth St. N, because of the risk of an explosion, which police say can occur with a meth lab. A biohazard crew arrived Wednesday morning and removed chemicals associated with the lab. Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant with a high potential for addiction.
"Those fumes can be very dangerous," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt, "and while cooking, it can be very explosive."
Das said one Hispanic male and two white males paid cash for two rooms on the first floor of the motel about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. When the lab was discovered a few hours later, "they loaded up their pickup and ran like rabbits," Das said.
As of Wednesday, no arrests have been made.
Police said the lab was just the second ever discovered in St. Petersburg. Meth labs are typically a problem in rural areas, Proffitt said, because of the powerful odor caused by the chemicals used in making the drug. "The labs are usually found in rural areas, and it's not that uncommon to find them in a motel," Proffitt said. "It is uncommon to find them in a motel within a city.
"I'm glad we don't encounter more of these. They really are dangerous."
Anyone with information is asked to call St. Petersburg police at (727) 552-5900.