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Suspicious scene leads to hazmat response

A suspicious chemical odor, a plume of smoke and the sight of a man standing at the back of a pickup truck early this morning in North Fair Oaks led a deputy from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office to call in firefighters from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District at 2:15 a.m., authorities told the Almanac.

A few minute later, a single fire truck arrived at the scene, 3507 Edison Way. At about 3:10 a.m., firefighters called for a full response from the county's hazardous materials team, Fire Chief Schapelhouman said.

The incident came to a close around 5 a.m. with no injuries and several unanswered questions. An investigation has begun.

The deputy had been on routine patrol and stopped upon seeing a motorcycle parked oddly against the side of a building, Lt. Tim Reid of the Sheriff's Office told the Almanac. At that point, the deputy noticed the pickup truck, the smoke, the odor, and the man standing at the open tailgate, he said.

"Hey, man, this can't be good," the deputy said to himself, in Lt. Reid's retelling of the story.

The initial impression -- that it was a methamphetamine lab -- proved incorrect, though exactly what was going on is still unknown. Someone told deputies that the man had been "boiling down gold," and that is as much as the Sheriff's Office knows for now, Lt. Reid said.

The deputy on the scene detained the man, meaning that he moved him away from the truck. Other deputies called out and a man came out of the building. Two more men were found inside. All the men are in their late 20s or early 30s, Lt. Reed said. At least two of the men were identified as employees of ImmunePath Inc.

And the disposition of the men? "They are as free as you and I," Lt. Reid said. "There wasn't any real go-to-jail type of crime."

What was the man doing? Were the other men involved? Why was he doing it outside? Why in the back of a pickup truck? Why in the wee hours of the morning? These are among the questions that investigators are now attempting to answer, Chief Schapelhouman said.

Were the men cooperative? "They were sort of cooperative and sort of not," Lt. Reid said.

Other county departments, including code enforcement and public health, may follow up on possible violations of regulations, he said.

A search for the company's website turned up a single page of plain text listing an email address and a physical address.

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