Officials predict number of meth labs found will increase this year
ROCK HILL — The ingredients were all there: gas, Sudafed, Mason jars, coffee filters and lithium batteries.
Stored inside a room at Rock Hill’s Executive Inn on Monday night were the makings of a methamphetamine lab that authorities say was inactive. Along with the meth materials, police discovered more than 1 gram of meth stuffed in a couch cushion, heroin residue on a sink, hypodermic needles in a nightstand, parts to a rifle in a plastic bag and a stolen lawn mower in front of the bathroom.
Police arrested Robert David Hawkins, 46, and Cynthia Snipes Burton, 32, both of Rock Hill, and Christopher Michael Watkins, 31, of Fort Mill, charging each with manufacturing methamphetamine, manufacturing methamphetamine in proximity to a school and possession of heroin, according to police documents.
The Executive Inn, which saw 86 police calls for service within the past six months, is less than a mile from Sullivan Middle School.
On Tuesday, Watkins and Burton were being held at the York County Detention Center; Watkins on a $14,652 bond and Burton on a $14,000 bond. Hawkins, also charged with possession of methamphetamine and shoplifting a lawn mower, was still at the Rock Hill jail awaiting transport to the detention center. Bond for the shoplifting charge was set at $4,000.
The lab was the fourth uncovered in York County this year, said Marvin Brown, commander for the county’s multijurisdictional drug enforcement unit. Officials last year dismantled 23 meth labs throughout the county – more than double the number they found in 2011 and 2012.
“I believe we’re in for another record year,” Brown said.
About 10 p.m. Monday, a police officer conducting a property check at the Executive Inn on North Anderson Road offered to help a woman in the parking lot find her daughter, whom she identified as Burton. After asking several hotel guests whether they knew Burton, the officer learned she was staying in a room with her boyfriend. Officers knocked on the door, and Christopher Watkins answered, inviting police inside when they announced they were looking for Burton, the report states. They found her lying on a bed.
A second man, identified as Robert Hawkins, was lying on a couch. Hawkins sat up and shoved his hand inside the couch cushion, the report states. Burton gave police permission to search the room for drugs after an officer noted finding what he thought was heroin residue on the sink counter in the bathroom.
Police found hypodermic needles inside the nightstand. A county drug agent used a dog to sniff out a blue gym bag under a table; they found 6 ounces of ammonium nitrate, 1 gallon of ethanol, Sudafed, pill crushers , scales, Mason jars, coffee filters, lithium batteries and plastic tubes – all used in making meth, police say. Ammonium nitrate is an ingredient found in the cold and ice packs commonly used in meth production.
Watkins and Burton told authorities the gym bag belonged to Hawkins. Officers found more than 1 gram of meth in a baggie between the couch cushions. Police also found a plastic bag containing a rifle charging handle, a muzzle brake, a scope mount and a drill bit elsewhere in the room, and a “brand new” black-and-yellow Cub Cadet push lawn mower in front of the bathroom, the report states.
Hawkins told police that he paid $50 for the mower a man sold him a night earlier, the report states. Police called several hardware stores selling that brand of lawn mower, eventually reaching an employee at the Tractor Supply Company on Cross Pointe Drive. After police sent him a picture of the mower in the room, the employee confirmed that it was the same lawn mower stolen from an outdoor display of mowers at the store’s entrance.
Hawkins admitted to police that he took the mower and planned to sell it, the report states. He was charged with shoplifting, and cited for false information to police. The mower was returned to Tractor Supply Company.
Though the meth lab inside the motel was inactive, the three suspects having the materials to make meth is enough to charge them with manufacturing methamphetamine, which accuses anyone who “aids, abets, attempts, or conspires to” produce the drug, Brown said.
Lt. Max Dorsey with the State Law Enforcement Division said the state is “keeping a steady pace” when compared with how many labs were found by this time last year.
Monday’s lab is the second found in a York County motel this year, Brown said.
Location in a motel “sort of speaks to (the labs’) mobility,” Dorsey said. “People aren’t necessarily having to stay at home or stay stationary to cook this meth. Because of this mobility, because it’s so compact (and) these vessels are so small … you can virtually do it anywhere.”
“We’re finding them in hotels, motels, cars, boats, mopeds, ditches, in wooded areas and, of course, homes,” he said. “Hotels and motels get a lot of attention because that’s an area where innocent people are concentrated in one building. The activity by the people in one room is going to negatively affect everybody in that building.”