YORK — Eva Morris, mother to an 8-month-old daughter, thought the funky smell in her York neighborhood was a busted sewer line.
She learned Wednesday afternoon that she lived three doors from what police say is the 15th active methamphetamine lab discovered in York County this year. Police say they found five people cooking 400 grams of the addictive street drug in a “heavy” Gatorade bottle in a house, with about a dozen other inactive one-pot meth labs packed in gym and duffel bags.
York County drug agents on the scene of a meth lab reported on Hudson Street in York. Investigators could smell the chemicals from the outside
Five people were arrested after a meth lab bust in York
Drug agents confiscated these items after busting a meth lab Wednesday in York
Police filed 20 charges total against Destiny Nicole Varnadore, 20; Christopher Lynn McCrary, 34; Christopher Shane Bailey, 31; and brothers, Michael Dwaine Dover, 23 and Keith Lee Dover, 21, charging them with one count each of trafficking methamphetamine, manufacturing methamphetamine, manufacturing methamphetamine within proximity to a school and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.
At about 11 a.m., agents with the York County Mulitjurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit were called to 30 Hudson St. after receiving complaints about a strong, pungent odor in the neighborhood that smelled like chemicals, said Marvin Brown, unit commander. Officials swarmed the neighborhood, right off South Congress Street and just across from the White Oak Manor nursing home, knocking on neighbors’ doors.
When they approached 30 Hudson St., officials were able to smell from the street scents consistent with a meth lab, Brown said. Once they knocked on the door, the odor of meth cooking, and its associated fumes, wafted in the air.
Most one-pot meth labs, the simplest way to cook meth, carry a pungent odor that smells like cat urine, Brown said.
One-pot meth labs, which take shape in Gatorade bottles or 2-liter soda bottles, are condensed meth labs that are more mobile than their predecessors, officials have said. Users fill the bottles with chemicals that react on their own and produce the meth in its liquid form. The manufacturers then use another container with salt and acid to solidify the drug into a compound they drain through a filter to produce the finished product.
On Wednesday, police detained all five people in the house, lining them outside while investigators obtained a search warrant, donned hazmat suits and chemical-resistant rubber boots and began sifting through the house and trash can to confiscate common household items used to cook meth, including lighter fluid, a face mask and a Mason jar, Brown said.
Neighbors were asked to stay inside their homes as a precaution as officials waited for a privately contracted cleaning crew to arrive and purge the house of chemicals.
Inside, investigators found the active one-pot meth lab in a small bottle, said Mike Channell, emergency management coordinator with York County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Officials also found several inactive labs, bottles encrusted with meth “byproduct,” in the house that Brown said indicates the suspects had been cooking meth “for quite some time now.” Both Keith Dover and Bailey had 2 grams of cooked meth in their pockets, Brown said.
The five suspects were all escorted from the house in handcuffs and loaded into York Police cars and a York County sheriff’s car. Before they were arrested, the suspects underwent a “dry decontamination” under a yellow tent. The dry decontamination process requires officials to strip the suspects of the clothes they were wearing at the time of arrest. They were then given orange prison jumpsuits to wear.
York firefighters were on standby in case a “wet decontamination,” or a shower with a water hose, was necessary to rid their bodies of the chemicals. The hazmat team determines what level of decontamination is needed once they enter a lab site and evaluate how many labs are active and possibly diffuse dangerous chemicals in the air, Channell said. Officials opted to perform a dry contamination since there was only one active lab.
Three doors down, Eva Morris cradled her daughter, peeking out her window occasionally while police swarmed her street.
“It’s scary knowing they could have blown up,” she said. “I don’t know anything about meth. I just know it can blow up.”
Morris, 29, said she did not know the neighbors living in the house with the lab. Oftentimes, she and her husband detected a “sewer smell” when they walked outside. They thought it was a busted sewer line.
“We were trying to figure out what it was,” she said.
Now, she knows.
“You don’t really know what anybody’s doing,” she said. “What kind of neighborhood is my baby living in?”
Dolly Ivey, 75, said she has lived in the neighborhood for nearly five years, but said for the past several months, she did not want to sit on her porch.
The neighbors two doors down, all “young people,” spent their time outside, “cussing and hollering.”
“I don’t like to hear cussing and filthy talk,” she said. “I just stayed in my house.”
There were murmurs among neighbors that the group at 30 Hudson St. might have been selling drugs because of the number of cars always parked at the house, Ivey said. Meth did not immediately come to mind.
“It’s been wild…down here, but nothing like this,” she said. “We never know…we never know what’s going on beside us.”
First in York city this year
The bust on Hudson Street was the first reported lab found in the city of York this year. Active meth labs this year have been found in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover, with the most being reported in Rock Hill.
Officials have noted an increase in the number of labs found this year compared to previous years. Officials dismantled 10 total labs last year, and 10 in 2011.
Twenty-seven people have been arrested and charged this year in connection with meth labs, Brown said. Though Wednesday’s lab was the 15th active lab discovered in the county, Brown said officials have come upon at least twice as many this year after receiving complaints about chemical smells or possible meth activity.
But those labs, he said, were generally inactive, or there was not enough evidence to build a case. Brown said officials found three inactive labs on a recent Friday and one inactive lab on Tuesday.
Just because the active labs could not be found “doesn’t mean they weren’t there,” he said.