Attorney: Miscommunication brought PCP-making chemicals to downtown street

Attorney: Miscommunication brought PCP-making chemicals to downtown street

A drug case in Orangeburg led to a shutdown of a Columbia street for a hazardous materials call Thursday morning. The Drug Enforcement agency was called to a business on Laurel Street for a report of hazardous materials.

Several businesses were evacuated, according to a spokesman with the Columbia Fire Department.

Spokesman Brick Lewis said the 1400 block of Laurel, which is between Bull and Marion streets, was shut down and three buildings in the area were evacuated. One was under orders to shelter in place.

"Obviously we take this seriously so we're at all precautions," Lewis said. "That's why we closed the street down. We evacuated some of the businesses in the area and sheltered others. It is a very flammable material though so that's why we took these precautions."

The block of Laurel is the home to the workplaces for some well-known attorneys. One of them being defense attorney, former solicitor, and former Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian.

This morning, as he and his staff arrived at work, they found a pile of barrels in the parking lot. The drums were sealed, but it turned out they contained a chemical called Piperidine, AKA "Pipe." It is a highly flammable ingredient used in the making of PCP.

“It's a precursor. It's what they use to make PCP. Very volatile, explosive, corrosive. All the bad stuff,” Harpootlian said.

Columbia fire and police officers responded along with state and federal agents.

Harpootlian says the drums were dumped there in connection to a case he and attorney Jim Griffin were handling in Orangeburg centered on the shooting of a DEA agent.

At one point, Harpootlian asked some of those involved on his client's side to reveal the location of the chemical.

"My client had some information about where there might be five drums of this precursor in Orangeburg. We made the DEA aware of that, FBI, the US Attorney's office and told them we'd try to get those delivered, uncovered, whatever to get them off the street," Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian says someone took his request literally and dumped the barrels in his parking lot overnight.

"What I thought after reaching out to folks we were directed to reach out to was that we would get a call or information that it was in a warehouse in Orangeburg or out in the middle of a field somewhere. But when I said I wanted it by 9:00 this morning apparently the word was, I wanted it by 9:00 this morning. And so somebody put it in our back parking lot last night," Harpootlian said.

One or more of the barrels ended up close to a gas line, making the scene even more dangerous.

"Obviously we take this seriously so we've got all precautions. That's why we closed the street down, evacuated some of the businesses in the area, sheltered others. It is a very flammable material though. So that's why we took these precautions," said Lewis.

All of the barrels have been removed and turned over to the DEA.

Hapootlain estimated the value of the chemicals at about $1 million.

Harpootlian says a PCP lab in the Atlanta area linked to this situation blew up about a year ago.

The explosion started a fire that burned for three days.

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