Harrah’s substance was pepper spray
Pepper spray was the substance released at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Sunday evening, investigators confirmed Tuesday.
Investigators believe a disgruntled Harrah’s employee was responsible for the incident around 8 p.m. that affected at least nine casino patrons. According to reports, an employee called investigators late Sunday and admitted to releasing the pepper spray.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Tim Minister said testing on the canister, which was recovered Tuesday morning, revealed that it was pepper spray in a concentration that can be purchased over the counter.
Joyce Mallory, 50, of Fresno, Calif., was walking down the back hallway with her husband, Rod, when she was overcome by the spray.
“We just coughed and coughed and could barely catch our breath,” Mallory said. “At least five people were taken to the hospital. I was put on oxygen and stayed on oxygen for several hours at the hospital.”
On Monday afternoon, Mallory said she and her husband were experiencing severe flu-like symptoms.
According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy’s report, Donald Parsh, 30, of South Lake Tahoe, was working in the bus area of Harrah’s around 6:55 p.m. when he allegedly got into an argument with a Greyhound bus driver. Parsh’s supervisor told investigators that he told Parsh to take a break and cool off. When Parsh returned about an hour later the supervisor said he could smell alcohol coming from him. Parsh allegedly told his supervisor he was quitting and headed into the casino. Other witnesses at the scene told deputies that Parsh went to the welcome center down the hallway from the back entrance, said he was quitting and sprayed what appeared to be pepper spray into the air.
Tahoe Douglas paramedics were first on scene. Battalion Chief Rick Nicholson said Harrah’s personnel had already set up fans in the hallway before they arrived, but every precaution was taken.
“We went in with a sensing apparatus that detects gases in the air before the firefighters started to remove any of their gear,” Nicholson said. “Thank goodness it was only pepper spray.”
Minister said although the substance turned out to be nontoxic it still was a frightening experience for those involved.
“When a person is having such a severe physical reaction to something in the air, and they have no idea what it is, it can cause panic,” Minister said.
Deputies said that Parsh called dispatch around 10:30 p.m. and stated that he realized he made a mistake and he deserved whatever punishment he received.
Investigators said the information has been forwarded to the district attorney’s office for the possible filing of charges against Parsh.
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