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Smell of natural gas leads officers to alleged meth lab

What started with concern over the possible odor of natural gas ended Monday night with three arrests for alleged drug activities and the temporary evacuation of four homes in Park Hills. Police also say they found the makings of a batch of methamphetamine that would have an eventual street value of more than $100,000.

Lieutenant Mark Rigel said officers seized about one-quarter ounce of finished methamphetamine, about one gallon of what he described as “meth oil,” all the ingredients necessary to manufacture the illegal substance and a variety of items related to drug activities.

The investigation began with the Park Hills Fire Department responding to a call where a resident smelled what he believed to be natural gas at about 10:30. Finding nothing amiss in that residence, a fireman walking around outside an adjoining unit detected the strong smell of ether.

At that point, Assistant Fire Chief Rick Whaley said, firemen knocked on the door of the second residence but the occupant was reluctant to allow them access to her apartment. She told them her children were asleep.

Whaley said the police were called and immediate steps were taken to evacuate four residences in the 700 block of Sixth Street. This was a standard precautionary measure, he explained, because of concern about a possible explosion. He said firefighters are trained to be alert to possible meth labs, as well as actions to take when one is suspect.

The odor of ether presented the primary concern because of its highly volatile nature, both firefighters and police explained.

While further efforts were made to get access to the residence, police said, three people were seen fleeing from the back of the apartment. Two men were arrested within minutes by police officers who were responding to the area. A woman who reportedly fled the apartment was arrested about an hour later at another residence.

Firefighters and police officers donned air packs and masks and conducted an initial search of the apartment. Rigel said they found some finished product as well as the precursors for making methamphetamine.

According to police Lt. Doug Bowles, more than 300 pseudoephedrine tablets, an ingredient used in the manufacturing process, were found in the apartment and many empty packets that once contained the same substance. They also found one-quarter ounce of meth and a variety of items used to make the substance.

Some containers containing residue believed to have been left from the manufacturing process were also found in the apartment. Officers said there were indications the suspects may have disposed of the ether firemen had smelled before the officers arrived to conduct the search.

After the initial search was conducted, area residents were allowed to return to their homes but with instructions to remain inside. At that point, Rigel donned full protective gear and did a more thorough search of the residence.

As the investigation progressed, Rigel said, information was developed about the other site in the northern part of the county. He said the Sheriff’s Department and the Mineral Area Drug Task Force joined in the investigation. That is where the so-called “meth oil” was found, Rigel said.

Rigel indicated that “meth oil” is a liquid developed at a certain stage in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. He said the amount found in this case was of such volume that the finished product would probably have produced a street value in excess of $100,000.

Bowles said the three people taken into custody in connection with this incident are facing possible charges of attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, possessing meth precursors with the intent to manufacture, possession of the finished product and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In addition to those charges being requested, Bowles said the department will ask for charges of endangering the welfare of children against the two people who reside in the apartment. While the children were not at the apartment when police entered, Bowles said there are two very young children who live there.

The police also said they are still looking for at least two other people who are believed to be linked with the suspected drug activities at the Park Hills residence.

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