A Doe Run man originally charged in connection with a mobile meth lab explosion that killed Kimberly Bell was sentenced to 24 years in prison for a lesser meth charge.
On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Pratte sentenced Robert Bunch, 33, of Doe Run, to 24 years in prison for an Alford plea of attempted manufacture of meth as a prior and persistent offender. His past convictions include burglary and failure to pay child support.
Bunch had originally been charged with second-degree murder, attempted manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a chemical with intent to make meth. As part of the plea agreement the other charges were dismissed.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Pat King asked the judge to sentence Bunch to 24 years in prison due to Bunch’s extensive criminal history. He said Bunch’s history showed he was a menace to himself and others and not deserving of a lesser sentence.
He reminded the judge that as Bell lay burning and suffering, Bunch left the scene before first responders arrived.
Bunch’s public defender, Wayne Williams, asked the judge for a 15-year sentence, saying Bunch had no prior drug offenses.
Williams said there’s no doubt it was a tragedy that Bell lost her life, but he asked the judge to look at it in the proper perspective. He reminded the judge that Bell was also manufacturing meth in that vehicle and she assumed some risk doing that. He said Bell has some of the responsibility for her own death.
He added that Bunch didn’t leave the scene right away. He said Bunch ultimately turned himself in and answered questions.
According to court records, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Mineral Area Drug Task Force, and the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office responded to investigate a vehicle fire at Route N north of Route NN on Dec. 30, 2010.
They later determined that Bunch’s car caught fire due to a meth-related explosion while he was driving. Bell, who was a passenger in the car, died Jan. 6, 2011 as a result of injuries from the fire.
The fire marshal’s office examined the car and determined the fire started in the front passenger seat or on the floor directly in front of the seat.
Investigators found a hydrogen peroxide bottle and a blue meth pipe on the passenger floorboard. Behind the driver’s seat they found a broken glass jar that contained a substance similar to Coleman Fuel, which is commonly used in the manufacture of meth.
A green plastic bottle found in the car tested positive for anhydrous ammonia. According to an investigator, anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen peroxide are commonly used together to make meth.
The clothing Bell and Bunch were wearing was taken to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab where it tested positive for meth.
Investigators learned Bunch had been staying in a camping trailer on Railroad Lane in Doe Run. They searched the location and found several “one-pot” meth labs in Powerade bottles in the camper and outbuildings on the property. The property owner told police that Bunch, Bell and at least one other person had been manufacturing meth on the property.
Two witnesses told police that they saw Bell and Bunch combining chemicals in a Powerade bottle before they left in the car that day. One witness said he saw Bell add hydrogen peroxide, causing the bottle to begin reacting. He saw Bunch carrying an extra bottle and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
The witness said Bell and Bunch always manufactured meth in the car and drove the same route. After that, they normally returned to the camping trailer in Doe Run. That day, however, Bunch called him and said he needed a ride away from the car fire.
The other witness said Bunch told her that they were making meth when the mobile lab caught fire.
Investigators checked the National Pseudoephedrine Log Exchange and found that Bell and Bunch made numerous purchases of pseudoephedrine pills in November and December.