Pepper spray release evacuates market

From Staff Reports
   A chemical release of what authorities believed to be pepper spray forced customers out of a convenience store between Hampton and Roan Mountain on Friday afternoon.
   The incident occurred shortly after 2 p.m. Friday at the Discount Groceries market on U.S. Highway 19-E near Ingram Branch Road. Carter County Rescue Squad paramedics and Roan Mountain Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene that they initially thought to be a chemical spill. Deputies with the Carter County Sheriff's Department also responded to investigate if the incident was a criminal act.
   Police had initially suspected the release was pepper spray given their familiarity with the smell and reaction from those exposed.
   "We found a couple of spots in the store which were orange-colored," said Sgt. Keith Range of the Carter County Sheriff's Department. "I pulled out my can and sprayed a small spot on the floor and it was identical."
   Range said customers exposed to the spray exhibited signs of breathing problems typically associated with exposure to pepper spray.
   Police said five people were in the building when the chemical was released. Paramedics treated three people who they said complained of sore throats. No customers or employees were seriously injured by the release, according to authorities.
   Volunteer fire department personnel set up an industrial fan to ventilate the building of chemical fumes.
   An investigation into the incident was ongoing as of Friday.