WHITEHALL — Two Whitehall men were arrested on Saturday for allegedly running a meth lab out of the Budget Inn, and one of the suspects is also accused of intentionally driving his car into the Champlain Canal the following day.
State Police responded to the motel on Route 4 in Whitehall at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, after receiving a complaint that two men living at the motel were cooking methamphetamine.
Troopers interviewed 26-year-old David T. Duncan and found materials consistent with manufacturing of the drug in his room, police said. Police obtained a search warrant and the State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team seized the meth.
Duncan and 38-year-old Daniel S. Murray were each charged with felony counts of criminal possession of the precursors of methamphetamine manufacturing and third-degree unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine and misdemeanor second-degree criminal possession of meth manufacturing materials.
Duncan is also accused of driving his car into the Champlain Canal the next day.
Whitehall Police Sgt. Ryan Pedone said the department received a tip from a caller at about 3:15 p.m. Sunday about a vehicle floating in the canal.
“By the time units arrived, the vehicle was completely submerged,” he said.
Whitehall and Skenesborough fire departments responded to the scene and searched for the car, with assistance from a dive team from the Putnam Fire Department, according to Pedone. At about 6:30 p.m., they located the vehicle and found identification inside belonging to Duncan.
Pedone said investigators were about to depart the scene at about 8 p.m., when they saw Duncan walking in the area.
Duncan claimed that someone stole the vehicle, but witnesses told police they saw him in the area of the canal.
“He was seen walking away from the area of the boat launch dry,” Pedone said.
Duncan was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief because, as the car sank, it hit a wall on the boat dock and caused some damage, according to Pedone. He is also facing multiple charges from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Duncan’s motives for allegedly driving the vehicle into the canal are unclear, according to Pedone. Nothing noteworthy was found in the vehicle at the time it was driven into the canal, Pedone said.
“I believe all the evidence for the meth case was taken out of that vehicle,” he said.
Pedone said he was not sure if Duncan was trying to disappear from the area and wanted to leave the car behind to avoid being identified.
Both Duncan and Murray were released from Washington County Jail and are due back in court at a later date. Because of the bail reform laws, the crimes were not eligible for bail.
Motel causes concern
The Budget Inn has been the frequent source of consternation for Whitehall residents and officials as it has earned a reputation for housing sex offenders, parolees and homeless families.
In February, Coy A. Hill, of Rutland, Vermont, pleaded guilty to three burglary charges for a burglary spree in April and May 2020. He had been staying at the Budget Inn, and police found 250 pounds of meat stolen from The Local Butcher Shop nearby as well as a semiautomatic weapon.
There were rumors on social media this past spring that the motel had been sold. Dave Brown purchased the property for $410,000 from New Snap 17 LLC on June 15, according to Washington County deed records.
Pricella Bhatti, the sole member of the LLC, had first purchased the inn in 2014 from CKA Motels LLC for $1. She sold it the following year for $200,000 to SBPB LLC and then it was transferred to New Snap 17 for zero dollars in 2017.
A telephone number listed on the motel’s Facebook page was out of service. A number for Brown could not be found.
Whitehall Supervisor John Rozell said he had spoken with Brown, who said the motel was going to be a decent place. Rozell said Brown was putting in some new windows and air conditioning units.
However, the issue is the clientele, Rozell said.
“It seems like it’s turning the other way, so law enforcement is going to do what they have to do,” he said. “I hate to see it go down, but it’s going downhill.”
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.