Deputies uncover meth lab Saturday

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Decatur County sheriff’s deputies had to put on hazardous materials suits to deal with the aftermath of a methamphetamine (meth) lab they uncovered late Saturday night.

At about 10:40 p.m. Saturday, Capt. Chip Nix and Investigator Brian Donalson of the Sheriff’s Office responded to an illegal drug complaint at 138 Deer Trail Road, located off U.S. 27 South a couple miles south of Bainbridge.

After finding a makeshift meth lab in the back yard of the residence, the deputies arrested Melvin Keith Cloud, 43, of 138 Deer Trail Road, Bainbridge, and charged him with manufacturing meth and possession of meth.

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Nix said that when investigators showed up covertly at Cloud’s home, they saw him with a flashlight looking in a bucket on the ground, near an air-conditioning unit. The investigators approached Cloud, who admitted he was making meth and showed them the meth lab.

Nearby, a fire was burning in the yard, something investigators commonly find when they discover a meth lab, Nix said. The fire is typically used to get rid of the packaging associated with meth-making ingredients, which includes everything from pill blister packs to stripped lithium batteries.

“The way he was making meth was the so-called ‘one-pot’ method, designed to make the process small and compact and even mobile if necessary,” Nix said.

Meth labs in general are hazardous because of the toxic fumes and highly flammable chemicals involved in the meth cooking process, said Doyle Welch, commander of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Haz-Mat team. The portable meth labs — such as a milk jug or similar container — are especially dangerous, Welch said.

“The chemicals are poured into the container and you actually have a heated cooking process going on from the chemical reaction,” Welch said. “The people making the meth have to take the cap or lid off the container every so often or the chemicals will pressurize and cause an explosion.”

Because of that risk, Nix and Donalson — who, like Welch, have undergone many hours of specialized training related to handling meth labs — put on Haz-Mat suits designed to protect them while they gathered samples from the lab for evidence.

Later, a professional meth lab cleanup team was called in to dispose of the lab. Nix said the investigation is continuing.


To catch a meth cook

To catch the meth cooking after receiving the drug complaint, Sheriff’s Office investigators used a computer database that links together the records of stores which sell pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients used to make meth, Nix said. Many states, including Georgia and Florida, now require drugs that contain pseudoephedrine — such as decongestants — to be sold behind a counter. In addition, people that buy those products have to present their ID, sign a register and can only buy so much at one time.

For the law-abiding citizen, it’s usually a quick and painless process. But for a criminal who is planning to cook meth or one of his helpers, the pseudoephedrine laws are a major obstacle. To get enough pills they need to be broken down for the meth making, the cooks or their helpers have to purchase pseudoephedrine from multiple stores, sometimes located in multiple cities.

But the computer databases made available to law enforcement now gives them the ability to detect overly suspicious patterns in the purchase of pseudoephedrine. People who buy hundreds and hundreds of pills from several different stores send up “red flags,” especially if they are already known to law enforcement from prior investigations, Nix said.