Man extracting hash oil sparks explosion in vehicle at gas station; suspect on the loose

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Police are searching for a man who fled after something inside his vehicle exploded outside a QT store.

A clerk at the store, which is located near Priest Drive just north of the U.S. 60, said it happened shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday. According to police, QT employees and people who were at the store tried to put out the fire.

Investigators said the driver left the QT parking lot and then pulled into a nearby  apartment complex. He then fled, leaving the SUV behind. Police say he is still on the loose.

There were initial reports that the vehicle, a maroon SUV, might have been a rolling meth lab, but Tempe Police Department spokeswoman Molly Enright later said "… officers have determined there is no indication that this incident involved methamphetamine or a meth lab."

The department Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit went over the SUV to try and determine what exploded and make sure there was no further danger. Officers evacuated some residents as a precaution until the EOD cleared the vehicle.

A hazardous-materials team was called to the scene to search the vehicle. Police, however, said there was no threat to area residents.

Video from the apartment complex showed the maroon SUV at the center of the investigation, its rear window apparently blown out and items from inside stacked on the ground. Officers bagged evidence taken from the vehicle, which was later towed away.

While no meth was found, police confirmed that the incident was drug related. They believe the drugs the suspect was handling sparked the blast and fire in the SUV.

"It looks like the suspect may have been trying to extract hash oil from marijuana using some sort of  torch ...," Tempe police Lt. Scott Smith said. "It's highly likely that the fumes collected within the interior of that car that actually ignited inside the vehicle at the gas station."

No injuries were reported.

Hash oil is a concentrated resin of cannabis that has a high THC content, making it extremely strong -- a good deal more potent than regular marijuana. Hash oil can be smoked or vaporized, as well as taken orally or applied topically.

Because hash oil is made by a process called solvent extraction, there is an inherent danger of explosion or fire.

The suspect is described as a white man in his 20s with a medium build and straggly long hair. He was last seen running south on Priest Drive. Investigators believe he might have been living in his vehicle.

If you know anything about the suspect, please call the Tempe Police Department at 480-350-8311.