Members of the Cherokee County Drug Task Force, reports say, served a search warrant on a mobile home in eastern Cherokee County Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 12. Joe Hester with the Cherokee County Drug Task Force said agents smelled a strong chemical odor coming from the trailer. After searching the home, they allegedly found two methamphetamine labs, one in a back bedroom, and another outside in some woods in the back yard.
Arrested according to reports, were Jeffery Neal Harper, 34, of Dekalb County, who was charged with manufacture of methamphetamine, unlawful possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree and Pamela Ann Ray, 47, a resident of the mobile home who faces the same charges.
“There was one lab at the residence,” said Hester. “And there was a trail leading to the woods behind the residence. There was a lab that was boxed up.”
Hester described the course of events that led local authorities to these latest meth labs.
“We did a traffic stop recently and two people were arrested for possession of a controlled substance,” said Hester. “We started backtracking some of the places where people had been and that’s how we ran across the labs.”
Agents allegedly discovered and seized approximately 16 grams of finished methamphetamine and chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. A cleanup crew from Atlanta was called in to remove the chemicals from the site.
One piece of equipment found, Hester said, included a triple neck flask.
“This is high-dollar chemistry glassware,” said Hester. “A lot of chemicals we found came from professional chemical supply places.”
Currently, Harper and Ray are lodged in the Cherokee County Detention Center.
Are more arrests anticipated in this case?
“We will keep investigating, try to follow up on some leads with the chemicals and stuff that was found,” said Hester. “We will also study some names we found at the residence. We will try to run some more leads down. We’re real interested in finding out where the meth cooks are getting their chemicals so we can catch people who are coming in and buying chemicals.”
Recently, agents made two arrests in connection with a traveling meth lab on County Road 7 in Leesburg. Agents fear their continued success in halting meth labs and catching those responsible could be hampered by state budget cuts.
“The 2003 budget does not have enough money for us to operate at the level we are operating now,” said Mark Hopwood with the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. “The local departments will have to do their own forensic work.”
“It’s a big concern for our department,” Hester said. “We have one man in our sheriff’s department who is trained to work on these labs. It’s a great benefit to our department to have the department of forensic science being able to come out on these labs. According to OSIA requirements, there has to be three certified lab guys on the scene to disassemble the labs. So we have to borrow one from Etowah or Dekalb to get our three and usually, Mark Hopwood with the Department of Forensic Science helps us. Their budget starts Oct. 1. The money they are getting is not going to be enough to fund them to work crime scenes or dismantle meth labs. We’ve got to have them.”
“We call them (Alabama Department of Forensic Science 24 hours a day,” said Hester. “Mark brings his crew out, they help us take samples. They test acids and stuff so we can see what is the most dangerous. There’s no way the sheriff’s department has enough manpower to put a crew together just for labs.”
Local agents extend their appreciation to the public for providing tips on suspicious activity and also alerting them to large purchases of certain chemicals.
As for the future, they urge citizens to contact Gov. Don Siegelman, local legislative representatives and others and encourage them not to cut the Alabama Department of Forensic Science’s budget for Fiscal 2003