Drug agents and park police say meth-makers have been dumping their portable-yet-explosive “labs” in wooded areas meaning danger for anyone picking up trash as number of meth labs rise.
The county's park system seems like an odd spot for a drug-making operation but it is not when it comes to methamphetamine.
Its makers often use remote areas to concoct the drug or dump its hazardous waste.
Hunters found bottles of the highly explosive methamphetamine last year on the ground at Deer Creek and Walborn reservoirs in Lexington Township. The reservoirs, three miles apart and both part of the Stark County park system, boast hundreds of acres of parkland.
Hunters, hikers and park maintenance workers found three of these "portable meth labs" around this time last year, all in wooded areas, said Chief Park Ranger Dan George.
As this year's hunting season gets underway, he and Stark Metro Narcotics Unit agents want to warn anyone picking up trash or litter to beware: Discarded plastic bottles may not be "just trash."
For example, if a green Mountain Dew 2-liter bottle looks to contain a milky or cloudy substance — something that's obviously not Mountain Dew — call police or park rangers because it could be meth and it could explode, primarily "because you don't know what state it's in," said Lt. John Oliver, who heads the metro unit for the Stark County Sheriff's Department.
Metro agents treat calls for such discoveries as "Priority One" due to their volatile nature, he said.
Illegal and highly addictive methamphetamine can be made in a bottle. People don't have to ingest, snort or shoot the illegal drug for it to be dangerous.
Five people were arrested after a meth lab fire on Cathedral Avenue in Canal Fulton in June. Canal Fulton police and fire were assisted at the scene by Stark County Hazardous Materials unit and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation after six "one pot" bottles of meth were found in the basement, according to the police department's Facebook page.
RISING NUMBER OF CASES
The number of meth cases Metro investigates each year are on the rise.
With two months to go in the year, law enforcement officers already have received nearly double the number of complaints or reports of labs compared to just two years ago.
When metro agent Jarrod Blanc became a member of the Narcotics Unit six years ago, "It would be one or two cases a year," he said.
"This year so far, we've investigated 15 complaints, only five of which were unfounded," he said. Six people have been arrested on charges stemming from the 10 remaining complaints, either on charges of illegal assembly or possession of chemicals used to make methamphetamine or operating the actual meth lab.
Blanc and his fellow officers have been called to clean up meth labs at an additional 10 locations — all investigated by other law enforcement agencies.
In 2012, officers investigated six complaints and cleaned up eight meth labs, seven of which resulted in arrests, Oliver said. In 2011, they arrested eight people and cleaned up five labs.
But from eight complaints in 2011 to 15 so far this year, "Our meth cases are nearly double what they were, as far as complaints," Oliver said.
Meth labs are becoming harder to find now that they've gotten smaller and portable, Oliver said.
"A lot of it has to do with the one-pot method," he said. "The full-blown labs like you used to see? We're not seeing that like we used to. Now they can make it in a plastic bottle."
George said meth "dumps" found on park property by maintenance workers this time last year included a couple of clear plastic bottles and debris.
"A lot of times, you think it's just some slob who couldn't find his way to a trash can to throw away his trash" — trash that turns out to be the actual remnants of a mini meth lab.
Park staff workers have since been shown pictures and maintain a hands-off policy. Police must be notified and, due to the potential for explosion, federal law requires special cleanup procedures by certified personnel.
George recommends anyone who sees bottles containing even a small amount of a milky white substance refrain from touching them and call rangers. The phone number for the parks district's west side including the Towpath area should call 330-353-2377. The number to call for the east — Deer Creek and Walborn — 330-353-2378.
Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or
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