When it comes to finding a home for your small business, there are a lot of factors to consider: the cost of rent, where your customers are located, how much space you need. But it's also worth trying to figure out if your neighbors run a drug lab full of unstable, highly flammable chemicals that could blow up and incinerate your workplace at any given moment.
Dale Puckett learned the hard way when, on the evening of May 21, he found his West Palm Beach business engulfed in flames.
The culprit? An accident at KRATOM Lab, located half a block from Puckett's shop. KRATOM, which purportedly made herbal incense, was secretly making synthetic marijuana until the blast that wiped out the fake-bud business. Now, Puckett is suing the three would-be chemical kingpins who ran the lab for a million dollars, as well as the landlord who rented them the property.
The three men named in the lawsuit as KRATOM employees are John Shealy, Matt Bryant, and Dylan Harris. A call to a number registered to a John Shealy in Palm Beach County was not returned. Attempts to contact Bryant and Harris were unsuccessful. The landlord, Jack Lowen of Lowen Properties, also could not be reached.
According to Puckett's lawsuit, the trouble began in December 2011, when Puckett rented a space at 5331 Georgia Ave. from Lowen to house his stone refinishing shop, Stonepuck. Unbeknownst to him, his neighbors at 5531 Georgia Ave., KRATOM Lab, had been using their property to make and distribute fake pot since May 2011. The persistent noxious fumes emitted from KRATOM, the lawsuit alleges, made it difficult for Puckett and his employees to work. Four weeks before the explosion, he confronted one of KRATOM's employees to complain about the chemicals and the potential danger they presented. A week after that, he approached Lowen to complain about the fumes and chemicals. But Puckett says that neither KRATOM nor Lowen did anything about the pot lab.
Then came the explosion, which blew out windows and doors up and down the block and started a fire that reduced both the lab and Puckett's business to burnt-out shells. Neighbors assumed a bomb had gone off, or worse; as resident Cynthia Hudson told WPTV after the explosion: "It was literally like a plane crashed right here." Puckett says there were hundreds of empty packets of incense littering the ground and his ruined business.
According to the Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach police and DEA agents investigated the blast after it happened but so far have made no arrests.
For Puckett, the blast set Stonepuck back extensively.
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"It wiped the whole business out and melted all my tools," he tells Riptide. "I've slowly been getting back to work."
And he's taking out that loss of business on KRATOM and Lowen by demanding an award of damages in excess of $1 million from Shealy, Harris, and Bryant for gross negligence. He's also demanding $150,000 from Lowen for negligence and breach of contract.