Dan Pool / Photo
Law enforcement agents establish a perimeter around the A1 Smoke Shop on West Church Street Friday after a substance in a plastic container sent two detectives, a drug task force agent, two EMS responders and a store employee to the hospital with a range of symptoms. All were released later that day.
The district attorney’s office, sheriff offices and GBI wasted little time taking action against the vape shops they believe sold products that led to 12 medical emergencies at high schools across the Appalachian Judicial Circuit earlier this month.
On Friday, agents from sheriff offices in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties, along with GBI agents, drug task force officers and district attorney personnel, executed search warrants at the A1 Smoke Shop locations in Jasper (West Church Street), and in East Ellijay and a Citgo convenience store on Blue Ridge Drive in Blue Ridge.
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Three deputies and two medical responders are under observation at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital after one deputy passed out and the others showed lesser symptoms when a container with powdery substance was opened and went airborne during a search of the A1 Smoke shop on West Church Street Friday afternoon.
Chief Deputy Jeff Hall, who was at the scene, said none of the officers or first responders had symptoms that appeared life threatening, but all showed some effects from the powdery substance and were treated with standard decontamination procedure. They remain under observation at Piedmont Mountainside.
Hall said it began when a powder, believed to be a legally sold substance used in vapes and in the powder form, went airborne.
Hall would not comment on what the original search warrant was for at this time. He did say the package in question appeared to be a regularly sold item at vape shops, not an illegal drug.
A Cherokee County Hazmat team is expected at the scene to begin both clearing the area and gathering samples. The parking lot for the neighboring stores in the West Church Street area that contains Pueblo Grille was closed. Hall said there may be some delay as they are seeking additional search warrants after the incident.
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Hall said the deputy who passed out had regained consciousness and is recovering, but was still being watched closely. He said they were exercising full caution with the officers and med crew.
Members of the planning commission agreed Monday that the county should work with the Department of Community Affairs to create new categories for land use, further define some standards, and “get ahead of the curve” with land use planning.
County attorney Phil Landrum asked the commission their views ahead of a discussion by the board of commissioners to update/overhaul the land use standards used by the county. The appointed planning board members all agreed that updating and refining is needed.
For the thirty-seventh time, the Sassafras Literary Exchange is about to begin its annual Creative Writing Contest for Youth. This long running challenge is for middle school and high school students who live in and are educated in Pickens County. This contest gives students an opportunity to test the writing skills they have been taught during their years of schooling. Students from public schools, home school and alternate educational programs have an equal opportunity to compete in this contest.
Dan Solla, a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, said when he was in full blown crisis mode, time was not a luxury he had.
“The VA has lists that are two months long for vets with PTSD,” said Solla. “I didn’t have time to wait for that. I needed help right then.”
Solla, who now works for the Atlanta Chapter of PTSD Foundation of America helping other combat vets by telling his own story, had spiraled out of control. At his lowest, he said even though he may not have been thinking about putting a gun to his head, “I was doing a lot of self-harm. I didn’t care what happened to me. I was on the road to killing myself that way.”