To combat a growing national trend and help keep their guests safe, several Columbia County motel managers met Thursday to learn ways to identify mobile drug labs.
Mobile methamphetamine labs are becoming more common, and "speed freaks" often use motel rooms as temporary drug kitchens, Pat Clayton, a task force supervisor for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Augusta, said at the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau's hospitality class.
Motel room labs first appeared in Augusta about five years ago, Clayton said, and they are becoming more popular because they are harder for authorities to pinpoint than stationary labs.
At least two meth labs have been discovered in Columbia County motels in the past 16 months.
Police arrested Nathaniel Thomas Curry, 25, of Blythe, on May 29, accusing him of operating a lab at the Wingate Inn along Jimmie Dyess Parkway.
Martinez residents Russell Hinton, 43, Travis Fredrick Lever, 35, and Susannah Michelle Chance, 38, of Evans, were arrested Dec. 20, 2005, and accused of operating a lab at the Georgia Inn on South Belair Road.
Making meth is a dangerous process, Clayton said, and it has resulted in deaths and injury from fires and the escape of lethal gases. He said there are signs hospitality workers should look for.
Meth makers and peddlers tend to be users, and often go on binges, staying up for days at a time, he said. They often show physical symptoms of use, including wounds from clawing at itching skin and poor hygiene.
Strange chemical smells, missing cleaning supplies and guests not allowing housekeepers to clean rooms for days at a time are other possible warning signs, Clayton said.
The drug class was part of the convention bureau's hospitality training program, which began last year to help service workers be more knowledgeable about area landmarks and tourism sites.
Chairman Barry Davis, a banker and former Richmond County sheriff's deputy, last fall suggested including drug training for hotel staffers in the program.
Beda Johnson, the bureau's executive director, said the bureau would hold more hospitality training programs and meth awareness classes in the future.
She said it's important to educate as many hotel employees and owners as possible.
"It really was just a proactive way to help them figure out steps to ... provide security to their guests and visitors," she said.
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