Friday, June 01, 2001

Florence motel housed meth lab

Rooms evacuated during cleanup

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Police discovered a methamphetamine lab in a Florence motel Thursday, the 46th such discovery in the Northern Kentucky and Southern Ohio area since Oct. 1, said Richard Cerniglia, the local agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

        Florence Officer Rick White was alerted to the lab by a clerk at the Motel 6 on Dream Street in Florence during a routine safety check early Thursday, , said Lt. Tim Chesser of Florence police. The clerks mentioned to Officer White that they had been smelling a strange odor coming from one of the rooms on the third floor.

[photo] Florence firefighters garbed in hazardous materials suits prepare to enter the Motel 6 room.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        He and Officer Brian Murphynoted the odor and saw what they believed to be a small “box lab” used for making methamphetamine, also known as “meth” or “crank.”

        The occupants had fled the room before the police got there, leaving all their materials behind — including a suitcase, empty packets of Sudafed, and the other ingredients needed to make the drug. Police would not disclose any information listed on the motel's registry.

        The officers notified Boone County's Hazardous Materials unit, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Boone County Fire Department.

        An environmental agency out of Evansville, Ind., also responded. The agency was needed, Lt. Chesser said, because of the environmental risks associated with manufacture of the drug. Agents suited up in special gear to remove the highly flammable materials. Lt. Chesser said everything in the room had to be discarded because of the risk associated with the fumes and chemicals used.

        Employees and lodgers were evacuated.

        Ed Jurkouich and his two children, all of Denver, Colo., said police ordered them to leave their room about 9 a.m.

        The family stayed in Northern Kentucky on Wednesday night after a Cincinnati Reds game. They are traveling to Sarasota, Fla.

        “I'm just wanting to get back to my room, get my stuff and get out,” Mr. Jurkouich said.

        Biederman Child Care, a daycare center near the motel, shut its windows and turned off heating and air systems to prevent the fumes from entering the building.

Moonshine equivalent
        Some Kentucky law enforcement officials compare the crude, homemade laboratories used to make methamphetamine to the old stills used in the mountains to produce liquor.

        “It is a modern-day moonshine” Lt. Chesser said.

        But there's nothing modern about the stimulant. Even though meth is relatively new to the Northern Kentucky area, it has existed for nearly a century. Invented in Japan more than 80 years ago and administered to soldiers during World War II, the drug was popular in the 1950s with housewives who wanted to lose weight. In the 1960s hippies began taking it, calling it “speed.”

        Today, abusers, who snort, inject or ingest the drug, are called “lokers.” Jim Paine, the newly hired director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, said the drug appeals to users because it is relatively easy to make and can be produced with convenience store items.

        Officers at the Motel 6 in Florence carried out empty packets of Sudafed, a water cooler, a bottle of Liquid Fire, starting fluid, batteries, gloves, medium-size glass containers that resembled beakers, salt and a wooden spoon.

        The chemicals used to make the drug are flammable, Mr. Paine said. The products when combined, he said, become toxic. The fumes, which Mr. Paine said smell like cat urine, are also dangerous.

        Mr. Paine called meth abusers “volatile,” saying they become extremely paranoid and dangerous when high on the drug.

        Other side effects include skin sores, liver damage and tooth and weight loss.

Use spreads
        Meth has been a problem in western and even more recently in eastern Kentucky.

        Now the highly addictive drug has increasingly moved north.

        Mr. Paine, who has been with the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force for six weeks, is former chief of police in Brigham City, Utah. At one time, Mr. Paine said, Utah had the “dubious reputation of being the No. 3 methamphetamine manufacturing state.”

        Now the drug is spreading in what Mr. Paine calls “epidemic” proportions throughout Kentucky and into Ohio. Keeping with the trend, western Kentucky was one of the first areas to feel its grip.

        Cheyenne Albro, director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force, said that from July 1, 2000, to May 1, law enforcement agencies worked 500 meth labs.

        “We haven't seen a decrease anywhere,” Mr. Albro said.

        He doesn't expect one any time soon. In an effort to combat the problem, Mr. Albro said, the task force had started a toll-free hot line, taught educational programs for the public and educated merchants about the products meth users purchase.

        The drug, he said, was “deep-seated” in western Kentucky.

        “I think it is something we will deal with for many years,” he said.

        In Ohio, police in Highland County responded Tuesday to a meth explosion. The explosion, which occurred at a rental home on Field Lane, sent two people to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.

        Highland County Sheriff Ron Ward said it was the 13th lab discovered in the county since October. He said his officers were aware of the problem and had been watching it closely.

        Even firefighters are getting training. The Fort Mitchell Fire Department on Tuesday night trained in how to handle meth labs.

        Lt. Jim Hils said they learned what to look out for and how to deal with the labs in case they ignited.

        Mr. Paine called the drug more dangerous than OxyContin, a prescription painkiller that people have been abusing rampantly. He said meth would be an even bigger problem than OxyContin because it was cheaper. Meth is often called the “poor man's cocaine” because of its low price.

        “In the eyes of the user, you are getting a bigger bang for your buck,” he said.

        “We haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg.”

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