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Interagency cooperation creates a broad net

PARK HILLS – The lead officer in an investigation into a suspected methamphetamine laboratory here Monday night and early Tuesday said interagency cooperation was a key factor from start to finish.

It all started with the Park Hills Fire Department, said police Lt. Mark Rigel, and then came the police department. As information developed, in came the Sheriff’s Department and before it was over the Mineral Area Drug Task Force was involved.

“Everybody involved deserves credit,” Rigel said Wednesday. “The cooperation was tremendous.”

Rigel said the fire department was alert and responded appropriately by calling police when firefighters suspected they had encountered a potentially dangerous situation. The firemen saw to it that people were evacuated to avoid possible risk and took other measures to protect the scene.

The firemen also provided equipment and stood by to assist law enforcement while the house and grounds were searched. Their role was instrumental to the successful operation, Rigel said.

Assistant Fire Chief Rick Whaley was the incident commander and took the necessary action not only to protect the public, but also both the police and his own firefighters. He was joined at the scene by Chief Bob St. Gemme, who oversaw later aspects of the operation.

“I’m just glad we haven’t seen one of these blow up,” St. Gemme said of the at least four meth labs taken down in Park Hills in recent years. “You wouldn’t believe how dangerous they can be.”

Rigel also lauded the more than one-half dozen officers of his own department who took part in the investigation. Several of them put in extra hours and responded to a variety of tasks including the arrest of three suspects – in a very efficient manner.

At the scene, Rigel and Lt. Doug Bowles guided the law enforcement end of the operation. Both donned protective gear to conduct the search of the apartment that still contained the strong odor of ether.

“I think it went very well,” said Police Chief Bill Holloway, who had been kept informed as the investigation progressed. “Again, it proves that cooperation is very important in situations such as this.”

It was early Tuesday morning when the investigation uncovered information that took it beyond the city limits, Rigel said. When that occurred, the Sheriff’s Department was notified and deputies quickly joined with city officers to carry out the next stage. This took them to two locations in rural areas where city officers had no authority.

The deputies were fully cooperative and it was with their assistance that a broader case was developed, Rigel said.

Discoveries made in the rural locations then led to bringing in the Mineral Area Drug Task Force. Officers from that multi-county unit took charge of some volatile substances and disposed of them in the appropriate manner.

Rigel said information developed in the investigation was also shared with the Sheriff’s Department and Task Force to lay the groundwork for an even more expanded investigation that could result in additional arrests.

Holloway said this operation was symbolic of the type of cooperation that exists among virtually all of the law enforcement agencies and fire departments in the county. Because of this, the bad guys can’t escape by simply crossing the city limits or even the county lines.

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