ROCK HILL – A Rock Hill couple who neighbors say recently moved into the area was arrested and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine Tuesday after drug agents found a “one pot meth lab” containing 100 grams of the drug in their duplex just steps away from a Cherry Road deli and Winthrop University.
Cory Seth Catoe, 29, and Brooklyn Barrett Brandon, 26, are charged with trafficking methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, two counts of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute in proximity to a school, manufacturing methamphetamine and manufacturing methamphetamine in proximity to a school, said Sgt. Jim Lubben, Rock Hill commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit. Brandon also is charged with interfering/hindering officers serving a warrant.
They were still held Tuesday evening at the York County Detention Center in York.
Tuesday morning, York County Sheriff’s deputies went to 1108 Ebenezer Ave. Ext. to serve a family court bench warrant on Catoe, Lubben said. When officials knocked on the door, they could hear a lot of movement inside.
Deputies got a key from the landlord and went inside, heading straight up a flight of stairs to find Catoe and Brandon together in a bedroom, Lubben said. Officials also found a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle on the windowsill they thought might be used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Catoe was arrested on the bench warrant, while drug agents were called to investigate the suspected meth lab, Lubben said. They found 100 grams of methamphetamine inside the bottle, still in its liquid form.
“That’s a lot,” Lubben said.
Officials evacuated nearby residents and called in a hazardous materials crew to help dispose of the lab, he said. Meanwhile, Catoe and Brandon were charged and taken to jail.
Two other people were in the duplex at the time, Lubben said. One of them, a man, had just spent the night and wasn’t involved. The other person, a woman who also lives in the duplex, was in her room the entire time and was released at the scene.
Drug agents along with personnel from the Rock Hill Fire Department, York County Emergency Management, EMS and the Sheriff’s Office all swarmed the scene as investigators donned hazmat suits and oxygen masks to rifle through bags, garbage and other property.
Investigators didn’t find any other possible labs, Lubben said, but they did recover several chemicals that could have been used to manufacture the drug.
The lab officials found was “active,” Lubben said, containing 100 grams of methamphetamine in its liquid form.
Methamphetamine, an addictive street drug that can be made from pseudoephedrine, over-the-counter cold medicines and household products, contains potent chemicals that, when handled improperly, can cause explosions and serious burns.
“All it takes is a minor mistake” to ignite a fire, Lubben said.
A bottle the size of what officials found likely wouldn’t spark a major explosion, Lubben said, but if a fire were to develop, chemicals could splash and spread the blaze “pretty quickly.”
Small or big, one pot meth labs shouldn’t be underestimated, said Lt. Max Dorsey with the State Law Enforcement Division.
The one pot method for cooking meth is the “most popular manufacturing technique used in South Carolina at this time,” and at least for the past four years, Dorsey said.
One pot labs, which take shape in Gatorade bottles, 2-liter soda bottles or any other “small vessel,” are condensed meth labs that are more mobile than their predecessors, he said.
Trends show that addicts commonly use the one pot method to produce meth for themselves or to sell it, he said.
Users fill the bottles with chemicals that react on their own and produce the meth in its liquid form, he said. The manufacturers then use another vessel with salt and acid to solidify the drug into a compound that they drain through a filter to produce the finished product.
“They’re manufacturing it as a ticking time bomb,” he said.
During a conference sponsored by the county’s All On Board coalition in March, Dorsey said SLED seized 267 small meth labs in 2011. A year later, officials shut down almost 540meth labs throughout the state, and by March had seized at least 100 labs so far in 2013.
Sixteen of those were in York County, Dorsey said. He also showed a video of investigators tampering with a discarded meth lab until it combusted in a flash of fire.
“In the pots, you have a bomb potentially,” he said. “To me, I think they’re more dangerous” than traditional stationary labs because of their mobility.
“You have no idea what’s going on in your neighbor’s house,” Dorsey said, “but what they do can affect your livelihood.”
Thom McNulty said he didn’t know what was going on in the duplex adjacent to his own apartment when he was asked to evacuate Tuesday.
Behind a stretch of crime scene tape, McNulty waited until officials gave him the green light to go back in his home, which police blocked off for nearly three hours. He stood nearby, clinging onto an iPad and snapping photos to send to a friend.
“I haven’t seen this locally,” he said. “It’s kind of frightening.”
From what he knows about methamphetamine, “the ingredients can be explosive,” he said. “I don’t really care for that kind of hazard in my neighborhood, much less the element it attracts.”
McNulty said he doesn’t know much about the people who were charged, except that he believed the couple just moved in about two months ago. For the most part, the street’s quiet, except for weekends when college students who live in the area spill into the street for parties, he said.
So far this year, Rock Hill Police have reported four drug violations within a mile of the duplex, according to Rock Hill Police crime data. Last year, they reported a total of 61 drug and drug equipment violations.
Two Winthrop University students who live across the street from the apartment watched and took pictures.
“I had to let mama know what’s going on,” said Clinton Washington, a 21-year-old senior business administration major at Winthrop. “I’m glad it didn’t blow up.”
“It’s scary,” said ShaRae Washington, a 27-year-old liberal arts graduate student at Winthrop. “I thought college students were living there.”
Winthrop officials confirmed Tuesday that Brandon and Catoe were not university students.