Unicoi County Sheriff: Death investigation continues, Unicoi motel temporarily shut down


UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A death investigation is underway at a town of Unicoi inn, which was also planned to be shut down today following a separate investigation.

According to Sheriff Mike Hensley, deputies are at the Budget Inn on Golf Course Road.

The sheriff told News Channel 11 that they received a call regarding a death at the inn. Hensley also said deputies were already going to shut down the Budget Inn following a joint operation with the 1st District Attorney General’s Office.

In a news conference, Sheriff Hensley said a body was discovered at the motel while authorities were on their way to shut down the establishment.

The death investigation is believed to be drug-related, according to Sheriff Hensley.

According to a release from the District Attorney General, “Operation Heartbreak Hotel” is a joint operation between the District Attorney’s Office, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office and the Town of Unicoi Police Department.

Sheriff Hensley said the death investigation was “more icing on the cake” to shut down the inn.

“After today it will be much safer,” said Hensley. “It’s not a safe haven for drug involvement, we’ve had a lot of burglaries, thefts on then north end of the county and I truly believe that some of these people were staying or coming by this establishment.”

During the press conference, it was announced that an assistant manager at the hotel had also been arrested about a year ago.

District Attorney Kenneth Baldwin says courts will determine whether the owner will face civil charges. It’s believed there was no management at the facility and that occupants were renting rooms out month-to-month.

At least two people who lived at the motel had to be relocated with assistance from the salvation army.

“This is the beginning of something we are going to begin pursuing actively,” said District Attorney Kenneth Baldwin. “If we find properties that are being operated like this in Washington County, Carter County and Johnson County, we’re going to do the same thing.”

A petition was filed alleging that there have been 244 calls for service at Budget Inn from July 1, 2017, up until December 31, 2019.

Of the 244 calls, 100 are related to criminal activity, including 16 theft reports, 12 domestic violence complaints and 14 fight calls.

58 calls were medical in nature, according to the release.

The release says 20 arrests have been made at the hotel over the time period.

The Budget Inn is under a padlock order and temporary injunction, and tenants will be required to vacate the hotel while operations cease.

An initial hearing is scheduled for 9:00 AM on January 13.

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