HURRICANE, W.Va. -- When Hurricane police descended on the American Inn at 11:30 p.m. on July 8, motel owner Navnit Sangani said he was as surprised as anyone that officers would target Room 120 in their search for a clandestine methamphetamine lab.
Two hours earlier, the motel manager had checked a 57-year-old woman into Room 120. The woman paid with a credit card. Her name didn't turn up on a West Virginia jail mugshot website.
"They didn't find the lady [who was] supposed to be in the room," Sangani said.
Instead, police found a bag of cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient, and two suspects, who were arrested and charged with operating a clandestine lab.
Sangani has been left to clean up the meth mess. Since that summer night, he estimates, cleanup costs and lost income -- many rooms had to be closed for months -- have totaled about $100,000.
The American Inn meth bust was one of 28 reported by police in Putnam County last year.
"I'm telling you, it's a nightmare," Sangani said last week. "Some junky people come down and mess up your life. For nothing."
After the arrest, health officials with the state's Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Program ordered Sangani to shut down 32 rooms at the American Inn.
Sangani asked if he could have Room 120 tested, and then have surrounding rooms checked if the original room tested positive for meth residue. He wrote to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who forwarded his letter to the Department of Health and Human Resources, which oversees the meth lab remediation program.
A DHHR official responded that meth fumes could migrate to numerous rooms through "breaches in walls, floors and ceilings." The DHHR wasn't backing down: 32 rooms -- an entire two-floor wing of the motel -- would have to be tested.
Sangani secured several estimates to test the rooms, some as high as $9,000. He called his insurance company, which agreed to pay for testing but not cleanup. His insurance covered cleaning only if a meth lab sparked a fire, he said.
Tests showed traces of meth in a second-floor room, but not in Room 120. Sangani was perplexed.
"I got an email saying people could have smoked it," he said. "For all I know, somebody could have taken a Sudafed [pseudoephedrine] in there."
The 32 rooms remained closed for three months. A meth cleanup company stripped the contaminated room, throwing away the beds, carpet, a television, furniture and light fixtures. The cleanup costs were paid through the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund -- an account initially set up to help victims of violent crimes.
About 20 percent of the victims-fund payments reimburse property owners and companies that specialize in meth lab cleaning. The fund pays only for cleanup costs -- up to $10,000 per property.
"They pay for cleaning, but not furniture, new carpet, mattresses, TVs," said Sangani. "Those can cost $6,000 to $7,000."
The July 8 meth bust wasn't the American Inn's first brush with trouble.