Motel Drug Lab Explodes

Man on fire flees Leavesley Inn room after butane from homemade
device ignites
By Rachelle gines Staff Writer

Gilroy – A man on fire ran screaming from his motel room after butane flames from a homemade device used to make hash oil from marijuana ignited, causing an explosion that forced some motel guests to be temporarily evacuated.

“He was naked and on fire from head to toe. He didn’t have his clothes on,” Gilroy Garlic Festival Cook-off contestant Judy Reynolds said of the Thursday night incident. She said she hoped the incident wouldn’t affect her first time in the competition. “He kept yelling, water, water, water!”

Mark Colla, task force commander of the United Narcotics Enforcement Team said Dennis Johns of Hollister used a PVC container fashioned into a cylinder along with butane cans to extract THC from marijuana leaves to make hash oil on the second floor of the Leavesley Inn in room 202. The explosion happened shortly after 10pm.

“His method of extracting THC was unusual,” Colla said. He explained that marijuana is traditionally soaked in isopropyl alcohol that eventually evaporates leaving the hash oil behind, but that that process takes days, whereas the butane method produces quicker results.

Colla said UNET is finishing their investigation and will forward the case to the District Attorney’s office. Johns was taken to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where a hospital spokesperson said he was listed in critical condition.

“Mr. Johns has a pending felony complaint of converting marijuana into hash oil. He may be charged with public endangerment, but that is up to the District Attorney’s office,” Colla said.

Police said no one else was hurt in the incident. Due to sprinkler activation, the room below the explosion site sustained moderate water damage.

Empty butane cans littered the floor around the bed of Johns’ room Friday afternoon, where the polyester comforter had melted into the mattress. The fabric lampshade on the night stand next to the bed had completely melted, and a copy of a drug-interest magazine lay charred on the table next to the boarded-up window.

The explosion was loud, said Reynolds, who was alone in her room tending to the three lobsters she purchased in San Jose for her cook-off entry, Creamy Lobster-Garlic and Hearts of Palm Soup. She and seven other contestants are staying at the Inn, but the other seven did not arrive until Friday.

“The explosion happened, and then it was quiet for about 10 seconds before the man started yelling,” Reynolds said. She said that she had trouble getting to rest Thursday night. “I ran out in my pajamas, saw him, ran back to my room and soaked bed sheets in water and blanketed him with them with the help of another man only in his underwear.”

Because she was staying five rooms away from the site of the explosion, Reynolds was forced to move to a new room without a refrigerator for her lobsters. While she waited for motel staff to bring her one, she said she kept the crustaceans on ice in a Styrofoam box until the refrigerator arrived. Once the refrigerator came, Reynolds said she still had to wait for it to reach the proper temperature in order to preserve the shellfish.

“I didn’t want to go home, but I didn’t even have time to think,” Reynolds said. “My mind-set has changed, it’s different and not as focused on the competition as it used to be.”

Although Reynolds, from Bloomington, Ind., said this is her first cooking competition in 25 years, she was unfazed about the competition before the explosion because she taught cooking classes. However, from the Garlic Festival Friday, she said coming to the event helped to calm her nerves.

“I just walked through the gate, and was quiet impressed,” Reynolds said from her cell phone. “I love going to festivals. It helps me feel integrated into the different communities they are in.”

Carol Moreland, assistant manager at the Leavesley Inn said no one checked-out of the hotel as a result of the incident, and that maintenance was in the process of cleaning the room up.

“Everything’s fine,” Moreland said, noting that the hotel was filled to capacity.

Rachelle Gines is an intern attending San Francisco State University. Reach her at 847-7158 or [email protected]