Motel, restaurant shut down in first case of its kind, man lifeflighted
A Cherokee man remains in critical condition at a Sioux City hospital after he was located Thursday at the first active meth lab ever discovered in Storm Lake. The threat of hazardous chemicals caused police to shut down a one block area on North Lake Avenue for most of the morning.
Joel Eickholt, 43, of Cherokee, was taken into custody by the Storm Lake Police Department, but not charged at this time. He was located at the Vista Economy Inn Thursday morning after Storm Lake police found a meth lab in a room there.
Eickholt advised police on the scene that he had recently ingested an unknown amount of methamphetamine and that he was not feeling well. He was transported to Buena Vista Regional Medical Center by ambulance, where his medical condition deteriorated rapidly, according to Storm Lake Police Capt. Bob Swanson. Eickholt was then air lifted by helicopter to the Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City.
As of Friday morning, he was listed in critical condition. It is unknown to police at this time if Eickholt's medical condition is due to drug ingestion, exposure to hazardous materials or some other medical condition. Charges are pending against Eickholt.
The incident began began Wednesday, June 25, when police received information on possible illegal drug activity at the motel. Officers conducted surveillance Wednesday evening and Thursday morning on a room at the Vista Economy Inn, 1316 North Lake Ave.
At approximately 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, officers observed a vehicle leaving the motel room. The vehicle was stopped and it was determined that the driver, Laura Anthony, 38, of Cherokee, was in possession of ingredients used in the manufacture of meth. Police detained the woman.
After the vehicle stop, officers went to the room and observed a subject through the window that was wanted on an outstanding warrant from Buena Vista County for failing to appear in court for an OWI charge.
When officers then entered the room, they observed what they believed to be an active methamphetamine lab and further detected strong chemical odors. Officers, for their safety and for the wanted subject's safety, immediately evacuated the room, Swanson said.
The subject was identified as Joel Eickholt, 43, of Cherokee.
Because it was an active meth lab, officers were concerned with the possibility of both hazardous chemicals and an explosion. The officers who made the arrest and the suspect were quarantined in the motel parking lot, while the police department immediately sealed off an approximately one square block area around the motel. That included closing both the Vista Economy Inn and the Burger King restaurant.
A lab team from the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement was immediately dispatched from Des Moines to secure the hotel room.
The security zone was later reduced to just the motel after it was determined that no explosion threat existed and no threat of hazardous material exposure existed, Swanson said.
Eickholt, along with two Storm Lake Police Officers and one Cherokee Police Officer, went though a decontamination process at the scene. At the scene, the officers and suspect removed their clothing and were showered by the Storm Lake Fire Department.
Two other Storm Lake Police Officers and the female subject went through a decontamination process at BVRMC.
Besides Eickholt, all of the others were released with no apparent side effects.
At approximately 12:09 p.m., the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Lab Team arrived on location to process the scene. The team collected evidence of a methamphetamine lab, including an undetermined amount of unfinished methamphetamine product and approximately 17 grams of finished methamphetamine. The lab team further rendered the scene safe and cleared the scene at 2:45 p.m.
The Burger King restaurant was allowed to re-open at 11 a.m. and the Vista Economy Inn motel was allowed to re-open at 2:45 p.m.
Storm Lake Police charged Laura Anthony with Possession of Pseudoephedrine as a Precursor, Class D felony, and Aiding and Abetting the Manufacture of Methamphetamine, Class B Felony. Anthony was booked into the Buena Vista County Jail with a cash bond of $139,750.
Charges are pending against Eickholt as the investigation continues.
Because of Eickholt's health condition, Capt. Swanson said police have not been able to question the suspect. It is uncertain how long the lab had been in operation, he said. The owners of the motel were not aware of the lab, Swanson said.
Swanson said the Division of Narcotics Enforcement lab team said the lab appeared to be a "sophisticated" lab.
It is procedure to secure the scene of a meth lab due to the possible risks for officers and others nearby. "When we first respond we take everything real seriously until we decide that the danger is not there," Swanson said. "It can be a hassle for surrounding businesses and such, but it is something we have to do for the protection of them and everybody involved."
The state lab team has completely decontaminated the room and removed the materials used for methamphetamine manufacture.
Swanson said on Friday this was the first active methamphetamine lab found in Storm Lake. "We've come across the remnants, but this is the first active one that I'm aware of," he said.
Agencies assisting at the scene include the Storm Lake Fire Department, Buena Vista County Sheriff's Office, the Iowa State Patrol, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Cherokee Police Department, the Buena Vista County Attorney's Office and the Buena Vista County Paramedics.