The explosion of a meth lab in a West Ashley motel late Wednesday is another reminder how dangerous the homemade operations can be.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated but not hurt by the blaze. Cooking meth in such close quarters can end tragically, though, and the labs seem to be popping up in crowded areas more often.
More than 1,300 meth lab incidents were reported in U.S. motels and hotels between 2008 and February 2013, according to the El Paso Intelligence Center.
The couple arrested after the West Ashley explosion — Joshua Earl Lantz, 33, and Jamie Lynn Lantz, 37 — had been living at the InTown Suites on Savannah Highway with their two young children.
Both face charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, child endangerment and two counts of unlawful conduct toward a child.
He faces an additional charge of neglect of a child, and she faces another count of child endangerment.
At a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, Joshua Lantz said he’s a painter and moved to Charleston from Indiana last year because of work and the weather.
Judge Linda Lombard noted that he had been previously charged with making meth in December. He was released from jail then on $20,000 bail. This time she set his bail at $500,000.
“Well, you hit the big time today,” Lombard said before he was led back to his cell.
His wife, who is listed on the police report as an unemployed shoplifter, didn’t make the afternoon bond hearing, apparently because she was recovering from serious burns on her legs. Her bail was also set at $500,000 at another hearing later in the day.
The couple’s two children knocked on a neighbor’s door shortly after the explosion around 10 p.m. and announced that their room was on fire, according to the incident report from Charleston police. A few minutes later their mother showed up and said her legs were burning because “the chemicals got me.”
The parents were taken to a hospital for treatment and the children turned over to the Department of Social Services.
A Charleston police officer was treated at the scene for unspecified injuries.
Police continually warn about the dangers of meth operations, but that doesn’t seem to deter those looking for a cheap fix. Usually they’re arrested before they blow themselves up, but not always.
In May 2012, three people were killed when a meth lab explosion gutted a building at Pine Harbour Apartments on Harbour View Drive near Goose Creek.
Several other meth labs have been discovered in local motels recently.
In August, police found a meth lab at the Economy Inn and Suites on Rivers Avenue after a resident reported a strong odor.
In June, a lab was found at the Sleep Inn on Northside Drive after a woman tried to skip out on her bill.
In April, officers called to a disturbance at the InTown Suites on Rivers Avenue reported a foul odor and found a meth lab inside.
The state’s growing homemade meth problem was a topic of discussion at a conference two years ago in Charleston attended by the nation’s drug czar at the time, Gil Kerlikowske.
The West Ashley motel, which is just south of Interstate 526, serves a mixture of short-term guests and long-term residents. Several of them were outraged Thursday.
James Johnson, 45, originally from Florida, has been living there for several months while working for a local construction company. He was just sitting down to drink a beer Wednesday night when alarms starting going off and he was told he had to leave.
“I worked all day; I didn’t even get to take a shower,” he said.
He said he was not happy that somebody who had previously been arrested on a meth charge was allowed to keep living there.
“I think it’s pretty (expletive),” he said. “We got put out. It could have been worse.”
Randy Huffman has been living at the motel for the past five months and said he plans to move.
“The idea that (expletive) was here kind of scares me,” he said.
About 200 residents were evacuated for the night. About 45 of them were taken to St. Andrews Middle School, where Red Cross volunteers set up cots in the gymnasium and served them breakfast.
Residents were allowed to go back and get some belongings about 2:30 a.m., and then they had to leave again until about 7:30 a.m.
Police said a container with meth-making materials blew up in a third-floor bathroom in Room 337.
The resident in the room next door told police he heard a loud noise and felt the building shake and went out on the balcony and saw heavy, dark-gray smoke outside the room, according to the incident report. He also said he heard somebody in the room say, “Don’t call the cops.” He went inside and dialed 911.
The room where the explosion took place was damaged by smoke and water from the sprinkler system, and about eight rooms on the floor below it were damaged by water, InTown Suites spokesman David Groves said. Those residents will be moved to other rooms, he said.
“Many of our guests are long-term residents,” he said, “and we’re just trying to do the right thing and take care of people the best we can.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.