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Hazmat Emergency at Bunnell’s Budget Motel Over: Suspicious Powder Was Cocaine

| April 20, 2013

The HazMat team carried a tent to cover a police cruiser that had to be decontaminated, in the parking lot of the Budget Motel. (c FlaglerLive)

The HazMat team carried a tent to cover a police cruiser that had to be decontaminated, in the parking lot of the Budget Motel. (c FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: Saturday, 2:40 p.m.

A suspicious package the size of a shoebox was delivered to the Budget Motel in Bunnell, behind the State Street Diner, this morning, triggering an environmental emergency. Bunnell Fire Chief Derek Fraser ordered the motel grounds sealed and summoned a hazardous materials team from St. Johns County, which authorities are awaiting.

Almost three hours later, the Hazmat team determined that the suspicious substance was cocaine.

“It tested positive for cocaine,” said Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez, who had been in and out of the scene throughout the afternoon. Fraser confirmed that the emergency was “wrapping up” at 2:40 p.m., though the Hazmat team was still going through a few additional tests.

“It tested positive for cocaine,” said Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez, who had been in and out of the scene throughout the afternoon. Fraser confirmed that the emergency was “wrapping up” at 2:40 p.m., though the Hazmat team was still going through a few additional tests.

“We may be a small town, but we’re ready for any type of emergency,” a buoyant Martinez said after the emergency was over, and after he spoke and thanked the Hazmat team and other first responders, with Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson at his side. Martinez credited his fire chief and other first responders for knowing immediately how to respond and what to do to control the situation and bring it to a close. “It’s a great day for Bunnell,” he said.

“It’s a great day when it’s cocaine instead of something that’s going to kill somebody or inflict harm to people as a whole,” Robinson said, relieved.

The envelope containing the cocaine was turned over to the Bunnell Police Department, in a brown paper bag. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

The envelope containing the cocaine was turned over to the Bunnell Police Department, in a brown paper bag. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

The envelope by 2:45 p.m. was in a brown paper bag, in the custody of a Bunnell police officer.

The package was delivered to a resident by mail, Fraser said. The resident then called the police. The package is believed to contain a suspicious powdery substance. There were two people in the motel room when it was delivered. A Bunnell police officer responded to the room to investigate. All three were subsequently quarantined in the room, to avoid risk of contamination beyond it.

Various communities have been on edge regarding suspicious packages and substances since the Boston Marathon bombing, which was quickly followed by the mail delivery of letters containing ricin, a toxic substance, to the offices of two senators. One such letter was intercepted on its way to the White House. Federal agents arrested Paul Kevin Curtis of Tupelo, Miss., last week, in connection with the ricin letters. But his attorney said authorities have produced scant evidence linking her client to the letters.

The Budget Motel is located at 601 State Street, in the heart of Bunnell. Business at the State Street Diner, brisk around the time when authorities arrived on scene, was not affected.

The three individuals in the motel room–room 16–shortly after noon were to be stripped and bleached before they would be allowed to leave the room, which would then be turned over to the St. Johns HazMat team.

The scene shortly before 1 p.m. was rather calm, the parking lot of the motel deserted but for a few Fire Rescue and police personnel, and just beyond it, across the yellow tape, Bunnell Mayor Cathjerine Robinson and City Manager Armando Martinez had arrived to get a sense of the situation. They had been elsewhere in town, participating in the city’s annual clean-up and fire hydrant art competition. That event had begun at 8 a.m. and wasn’t due to be done until 2 p.m., with a cook-out for participants. Neither lingered, though both would return about half an hour later, along with Commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady.


A cleaning cart had been left in place, at the entrance of a room, a few doors down from the one where the suspicious package was delivered.

At 1 p.m., the motel owner and one of the motel’s employees were wrapped in a white protective suit from head to toe were being interviewed by Fire Rescue personnel outside of a room, appearing relaxed and in good humor. Moments later, a third individual, a man, joined them also in a white suit: they in fact had been the three people who had been in the room: room 16 is immediately adjacent to the motel’s office.

“Two patients have been decontaminated,” Fraser said at 1:16 p.m., “the last one is being decontaminated right now.”

The HazMat team arrived at 1:24 p.m. Personnel was getting suited up just before 2 p.m. to go into Room 16 and claim the package.

It was also getting well past lunchtime: fire rescue personnel requested 25 orders of burgers and fries from the State Street Diner–a good way to counter the effect of the emergency on the restaurant: the situation had emptied the dining room until then.

“We’ve got to help you out,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson told State Street owner Joe Bonasia after she helped carry out the 25 meals, “necause we kind of messed up your business today.”

At 2:10 p.m., a segment of the Hazmat team, suited up, carried a yellow tent with which it partly covered the Bunnell police cruiser the officer had driven into the parking lot that morning, and had potentially contaminated after investigating Room 16. The cruiser was to be decontaminated.

Less than half an hour later, the announcement came through: it was nothing more interesting or dangerous, at least not in the context of an environmental emergency, than cocaine.

FlaglerLive wishes to thank the State Street Diner for its WiFi throughout the emergency, making the revolving transmission of this story possible, and for its delicious, white-powder-free food.

The Hazmat team analyzing samples next to a Bunnell city police cruiser in mid-afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)

The Hazmat team analyzing samples next to a Bunnell city police cruiser in mid-afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)


Getting suited up. (c FlaglerLive)

Getting suited up. (c FlaglerLive)


The St. Johns HazMat unit arrived at the Budget Motel at 1:24 p.m. (c FlaglerLive)

The St. Johns HazMat unit arrived at the Budget Motel at 1:24 p.m. (c FlaglerLive)


At 2:15, the State Street diner- served 25 meals to the first responders and the hazmat team, with help from Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, center, and servers Michelle MacDonald, right, and Trish D'Amico. (c FlaglerLive)

At 2:15, the State Street diner- served 25 meals to the first responders and the hazmat team, with help from Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, center, and servers Michelle MacDonald, right, and Trish D’Amico. (c FlaglerLive)


Getting suited up to claim the package, just before 2 p.m. (c FlaglerLive)

Getting suited up to claim the package, just before 2 p.m. (c FlaglerLive)


The St. Johns County Fire Rescue HazMat team preparing for the handling of the package. (c FlaglerLive)

The St. Johns County Fire Rescue HazMat team preparing for the handling of the package. (c FlaglerLive)


Derek Fraser, Bunnell's fire chief (center) speaks to Capt. Jimmy Shaw of Flagler County Fire Rescue in the parking lot of the Budget Motel in Bunnell this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

Derek Fraser, Bunnell’s fire chief (center) speaks to Capt. Jimmy Shaw of Flagler County Fire Rescue in the parking lot of the Budget Motel in Bunnell this morning. (c FlaglerLive)


The motel owner known as D.J. and one of the motel's cleaning ladies, Carol, being tended to outside a room at the motel early this afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)

The motel owner known as D.J. and one of the motel’s cleaning ladies, Carol, being tended to outside a room at the motel early this afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)


Fire rescue personnel interviewed the motel's cleaning lady, known as Carol, at 1 p.m., outside a room. (c FlaglerLive)

Fire rescue personnel interviewed one of the motel residents at 1 p.m., outside a room. (c FlaglerLive)


Room 16, quarantined. (c FlaglerLive)

Room 16, quarantined. (c FlaglerLive)

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15 Responses for “Hazmat Emergency at Bunnell’s Budget Motel Over: Suspicious Powder Was Cocaine”

  1. tulip says:

    So a package of cocaine was mailed to a resident of the motel? It would seem to me that the resident must deal in the stuff, because no one mails cocaine to a random name and address. If so, why did the recipient stupidly call the cops. Now he’s lost his cocaine to either snort or sell—tough.

    However, why didn’t the Hazmat people check out what the powder was before Bleaching the residents of the room etc.? Geesh.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or not,

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    I can’t see why the authorities deviated from normal proceedure and didn’t blow up the suspicious package with explosives. The city of Bunnell could have used the pick-me-up.

  3. PJ says:

    Better to be safe then sorry. Nice work Bunnell Fire Dept. and thanks to all the other agencies that back them up!!

    America United We Stand………and Go Boston PD too………..PJ

  4. Safety guy says:

    Absolutely 100% this situation was handled exactly as it should have been. These are hard times we live in and you just never know from where the next nutcase will attack. Terror works on the mind. When people no longer feel safe anywhere, large cities, small towns, or public venues terrorists will have accomplished their objective. Job well done Flagler County, Bunnell, and St. John’s! Thank you for what you do.

  5. DG says:

    “We may be a small town, but we’re ready for any type of emergency,”

    apparently not if we needed help from St. Johns County

    • Realty Check says:

      The problem is keeping a unit like that around with no daily, weekly or even monthly use gets very expensive. The use does not warrant the cost, it is cheaper to pay another county to come in when you need the help then try and sustain the cost internally. The tax payers have enough of a burden with out paying for and supporting units we may rarely use, just my opinion but I am glad we do not try to sustain every possible unit we may never use.

  6. Think About it says:

    You’d thinlk they would have tested the “powder” before doing all the decontamintion…Strange procedure..

  7. biker says:

    Lol. You can’t make this stuff up.

  8. pete says:

    What a bunch of bull and a waste of tax payers money

  9. Florida Girl says:

    “It’s a great day when it’s cocaine instead of something that’s going to kill somebody or inflict harm on people as a whole”

    wow, cocaine has inflicted more people and families as a whole… great day… !!cocaine for all!!

  10. Jason says:

    You have an unknown substance that could be very dangerous. Wanna let the possible victims stand around contaminated and infecting anyone they contact, or do you want to secure them,stop the threat of contamination by the victims to those trying to help and reduce the exposure of the victims?
    Sound reasonable to me, take reasonable precaution to protect the lives the victims and all responding, then identify the suspicious powder.

  11. A.S.F. says:

    “It’s a great day when it’s Cocaine instead of something that’s going to kill somebody or inflict harm to people as a whole.” REALLY?? And this comment comes from the MAYOR of the town?? Does she know nothing about the effects of Cocaine and drug trafficking at all? Does she have any idea of how many individuals and families have been decimated by this one drug alone? I can only hope that her comment is not an indication of how the Bunnell police department and govenment approach the problems of drug abuse and trafficking in their town. I cannot fathom how such a high placed official could have made such an ill-advised remark! Mayor Robinson needs to qualify and correct herself in public and very soon–do or say something that indicates that officials in Bunnell consider what happened a serious matter indeed instead of suggesting that, just because it wasn’t a terrorist incident, we can all say, “Whew, what a relief!”

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The mayor’s comment, it was clear from the context of the interview, was not intended to suggest at all that cocaine is an acceptable danger, but that given the situation–the bombing in Boston, the fear of a similar emergency here–she was relieved that it was only cocaine, which does not blow up and cannot harm untold number of people in a flash. She had literally been told moments earlier that the package–the envelope–was not anything lethal, as feared earlier.

    • Realty Check says:

      @ASF, I would rather it have been drugs also, would you have rather it been a toxin like Anthrax? honestly now they arrest those involved and take one more dealer off the street. I think you are taking the comments out of contex, the cost would have been triple and the fact is no one was hurt as compared to if it had been a toxin.

  12. Anonymous says:

    So, what did they do with the cocaine?

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