There seems to be no method to the madness of one backroom chemist who allegedly used his real name to check into a downtown Philadelphia hotel room this weekend where he set up a mobile meth lab, police said.
About 5:30 a.m. Saturday, the Fire Department was called to the Hampton Inn on Race Street near 13th after a fire alarm went off in Room 322 of the hotel, said Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan.
Upon arrival, fire officials found what they were concerned might be an explosives-manufacturing operation in the room, and they called the Police Department's homeland security unit and the bomb squad to the scene, Sullivan said.
Police were immediately able to identify the equipment and chemicals in the room as those involved in an illegal "shake-and-bake" or "one-pot" methamphetamine lab, Sullivan said.
The traditional method involves heating or cooking the highly volatile chemicals used to make meth, such as pseudoephedrine and drain cleaner. But in the shake-and-bake method, the maker puts the products in a 2-liter bottle and just shakes it. That makes smaller batches, but the production time is greatly reduced, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
There was no active cooking process occurring when police entered the room, so most of the 300 or so guests that had been evacuated from the hotel when the smoke alarm went off were allowed to return by 8 a.m.
After obtaining a search warrant, police discovered more than 1,000 grams of meth in the room with a street value of about $70,000, Sullivan said.
Police obtained surveillance video of two men entering and leaving the room, but an even bigger clue led them to one of the men they say is involved -- he'd used his real information to book the room, police said.
Matthew Sinson, 27, had checked into the room about 11:30 p.m. Friday and busted out of it when the smoke alarm went off early Saturday, Sullivan said. He was found by police at his house on 12th Street near Vine.
"We're still shaking our heads about that one, that he gave them his real name and address," Sullivan said. "With the quality of the surveillance footage, I'm sure we would have got him, but this certainly made it easier."
Sullivan said police are actively searching for the suspect's accomplice. Although mobile meth labs in hotel rooms, back seats of cars and bathrooms of department stores are not unusual in the central and western parts of the country, they're rare here, Sullivan said.
"This is very unusual for Philadelphia," he said, "but around the country municipalities and state governments are overwhelmed with the cleanup of meth labs."
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