2nd man arrested following LaBelle hazmat scene

Reporter: Olivia Jean
Published: Updated:

A second arrest was made during the investigation of the mysterious hazmat scene in LaBelle that made 20 first responders sick.

The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office arrested 39-year-old Giovel Chmelnicky Valdes on Monday, June 24, in connection to several stolen vehicles and parts worth close to $1 million at the scene.

He was an individual who rented space at property and he now faces grand theft charges of vehicle motor theft.

A total of 15 stolen vehicles and trailers were found on the scene. They include:

  • 2022 White Freightliner flatbed tow truck
  • 2019 Black F450
  • Tiffin Phaeton RV
  • Black Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • 2018 White Wabash trailer (full of Printers Valved $317,000)
  • 2011 Black Ford F250 (Stripped)
  • 2020 White Dodge Challenger (Just body)
  • 2015 White Ford F550 (with a toolbox body full of tools)
  • 2024 Black Peterbilt Truck (Just Cab)
  • 2024 White Freightliner Truck (Just cab on Lowboy trailer)
  • 2014 Green Kenworth Semi
  • Unknown make box trailer with stolen Peterbilt cab and sleeper inside
  • Unidentifiable low boy trailer
  • 2005 Volvo Truck
  • White Peterbilt and Car hauler
  • 2003 Black Ford F250 (transmission)
  • Ford L9000 with multiple vehicle parts
  • 2018 Gold Cadillac

Deputies initially responded to a storage lot on North Industrial Loop off State Road 29 on June 19 to investigate the discovery of a stolen vehicle hauler.

While at the scene they found a man face down on the floor of a locked RV.

When responders made entry a “suspicious element” made them all sick, including hazmat crews.

All were taken to the hospital as well as the man inside, Juan Gonzalez Diaz, from Miami.

Diaz was released from the hospital and later arrested for an outstanding federal warrant for violating probation.

It is unclear if there is a relationship between Diaz and Valdes.

Lots of questions linger in the wake of this new arrest, including what made first responders so sick that they had to be hospitalized. All have since been treated and released.

Several agencies responded to figure out what made the responders and Diaz sick.

The agencies included some from the federal government:

  • Hendry County Sheriff’s Office
  • Clewiston Police Department (mutual aid/support staff)
  • Hendry County Fire/EMS
  • LaBelle Fire Department
  • Army National Guard CST (conducting testing for chemicals, air quality, etc.)
  • ATF Bomb Technician (supporting other agencies while search by Federal agencies continue)
  • FBI – WMD (precautionary measures with sophisticated technology to measure the air quality)
  • FBI (evidence collection)
  • DEP (any ground/soil contamination testing)
  • Lee County Unified Haz-Mat Team   

“Even though we may not know what the substance is, there’s a baseline of our training that covers what our minimum should be. So, if you’re going into this type of aerosol type of event, you do XYZ, and if you’re going to, you know, so it’s all about based upon our training, it’s all based upon our understanding, and the things that we practice each and every day to make it safer,” Fort Myers Fire Chief, Tracy McMillion said.

The road was closed in the area for two days as teams investigated.

In the end, no immediate conclusion was made about the toxic airborne element.

The sheriff’s office confirmed that samples of the substances were sent to a lab for more in-depth testing.

We are still waiting to hear whether those results concluded anything concrete.

Hendry County Sheriffs Office said that additional charges will most likely be filed.

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