Suspect threw sodium hydroxide into air on dance floor, but police don’t think he was targeting gays
Authorities have identified a powdery substance that was thrown into the air on the dance floor at Station 4 last weekend as sodium hydroxide, or lye, a dangerous chemical that can cause burns, scarring or even blindness.
An S4 employee was treated for a blister on his tongue after he tried to identify the substance, according to police, but no other injuries have been reported. Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Ernest GurulÃ©, who announced the results of testing on the substance Thursday, Dec. 4, said the incident doesn’t pose an ongoing health threat to people who were in the club if they haven’t experienced symptoms already.
Police said they haven’t identified the suspect in the incident, which occurred at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 30, inside the popular gay nightclub at 3911 Cedar Springs Road. The suspect, described as an Asian male in his 30s, was approached by an employee who saw him throwing the powder into the air on the dancefloor.
The suspect left the nightclub after handing over to the employee a glass container with the powder in it.
The suspect reportedly told the employee the powder was rock salt, but another employee called 911 after the powder burned his tongue.
Senior Cpl. Janice Crowther, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Police Department, said Thursday that investigators don’t believe the incident was an anti-gay hate crime.
Crowther said the suspect likely would be charged with the offense of "terroristic threat," which can range from a class-B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony under Texas law.
"We don’t know why he did it, and we can’t find any witness to tell us why or who he is," Crowther said. "We don’t perceive it right now as anything anti-gay."
The incident prompted authorities to close Reagan Street between Cedar Springs Road and Dickason Avenue while they removed the substance from the nightclub.
GurulÃ©, the Fire-Rescue spokesman, said the FBI is assisting with the investigation.
"It’s absolutely irresponsible, reckless behavior on the part of an individual to walk around and carelessly or even in a premeditated way to distribute [sodium hydroxide] into the environment and certainly onto individuals," GurulÃ© said. "I don’t think this falls under the category of ‘prank’ by any definition. This was a malicious event."
Sodium hydroxide, which can be purchased over the Internet, is a caustic metallic base commonly used in chemical laboratories and in the manufacture of various products, including soaps and detergents. The chemical can also be used in the production of methamphetamine.
Rick Espaillat, a spokesman for Caven Enterprises, which owns S4, issued a written statement Thursday.
"In dealing with the situation, local and federal authorities were consulted and extreme precautions were taken to determine the threat level and to ensure the safety of our guests, our staff, and the general public," Espaillat’s statement said.
"After hours of deliberation, those authorities determined that the threat of injury was negligible. We received directions from the authorities and instructed those present that they should go home, shower, wash their clothes and report any symptoms to their doctor. We feel strongly that our staff acted responsibly, and we are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. We are grateful to our patrons for their patience and cooperation."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2008.