Meth, not fentanyl, found in Oberlin Walmart exposure investigation

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Dylan Reynolds | Chronicle
Workers from Chemtron Corp. clean out a Dodge pickup truck at Walmart in Oberlin during a hazardous materials exposure Oct. 29.

JASON HAWK
EDITOR

Crystal meth was found in Lorain County Crime Lab tests following a huge hazardous materials response Oct. 29 in the parking lot of Walmart on U.S. Route 20.

Seven people were hospitalized after being exposed to a white powdery substance in a Dodge Dakota pickup truck.

Police haven’t had many answers the past two months while tests ground on.

Now it turns out that fentanyl — the powerful opioid originally thought to be the culprit — wasn’t detected, Oberlin Police Chief Ryan Warfield said Friday.

“The reaction they had, I would say it’s a fentanyl reaction, but we didn’t locate any fentanyl,” said.

“Obviously, the people had a reaction to something. I just don’t know what it was,” he said.

Erin Murphy, a program manager for Lorain County Public Health, said the victims’ symptoms and the fact they were revived with naloxone also pointed to opioids.

Javonte Adams, 28, of Lorain, was named as the suspect in the case.

He was arrested on warrants for petty theft and obstructing official business, but to date does not face any counts linked to drugs.

Warfield said he does not know whether his officers can tie Adams to the methamphetamine. It was found in the truck, which does not belong to Adams.

Making the investigation more difficult, Adams’ clothing was decontaminated at Mercy Health Allen Hospital, so it could not be tested.

“Obviously there was no evidentiary value to that at the time,” Warfield said.

“Our focus was just getting people clean,” said Tom Kelley, director of the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security.

Other samples went to the Lorain County Crime Lab. Director Elizabeth Doyle said they were tested for opioids including fentanyl but none were found.

All the evidence provided to the lab has been tested and returned to police, she said.

The case has public safety forces scrambling to improve the way they handle hazardous materials.

After the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, there were issues with potentially dangerous powder being sent through the mail, said Kelley.

That led first responders to develop protocols for handling those kinds of incidents. But there was nothing on the books for a situation like the one that played out in Oberlin, Kelly said.

Police, firefighters, doctors and Lorain County health officials are working now to develop those protocols. He said they need to make sure the proper guidelines are in place to protect investigators as well as evidence.

Murphy said officials held a conference in November to walk through the incident and see what could be learned.

Another will be held in January or February, with a focus on better coordinating responses between agencies.

In the meantime, Kelley said he is working to calculate the cost of the massive response, which involved agencies from all over the county as well as Mercy.

The cost to the EMA alone for protective suits, gloves, boots and eyewear is roughly $1,200.

By law, the person or company responsible for a hazardous materials incident must pay for the cost of clean-up, Kelley said.