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Four arrested in meth lab bust

Posted: February 8, 2011 5:12 p.m.
Updated: February 9, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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Megan Smith

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For the first time in nearly five years, the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has made arrests for the manufacture of methamphetamine (“meth”).

Thanks to an anonymous tip about a domestic disturbance on Lake Shore Road at a home on the Camden side of Lake Wateree, deputies were able to seize portable meth lab equipment and chemicals, other drug paraphernalia and 4 grams of meth itself. They also arrested four people they say are responsible for manufacturing what Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews called an “extremely addictive, extremely destructive” drug.

Zachary Harkins, 24; Megan Smith, 22; Corey Garrison, a 22-year-old male; and Carey Rice, a 24-year-old female, were all charged with manufacturing methamphetamine. Harkins and Smith were also charged with possession with intent to distribute the drug. Rice was also charged with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance. All, said Matthews, appear to have ties to North Carolina.

Matthews said deputies responding to the domestic disturbance call didn’t know they were dealing with a meth lab at first.

“They probably didn’t realize they were in harm’s way,” Matthews said during an interview in his office at KCSO headquarters. “They knew once they saw the chemicals and containers.”

Matthews said when they first arrived at the lakeshore home, they noticed the door was cracked open with an extension cord running out the door to a refrigeration unit on a truck parked in the yard.

“My guys tell me it was the kind of thing people use to drive around selling meat in,” said Matthews, who believed the unit was being used to store meat.

As deputies looked inside, he said, they could see a fist-size hole punched in the wall consistent with a domestic call and drug paraphernalia out in plain sight. They could also smell a “foul chemical odor” coming from inside.

Matthews said deputies identified themselves several times but got no answer. With the door open, the law allows them to go inside to do what Matthews called a “protective sweep” to secure the home. They found meth product, an assortment of chemicals and the equipment used to produce the drug. Once that was done, Matthews said, other deputies went to obtain a search warrant so the evidence could be properly seized.

A short time later, Harkins, Smith, Garrison and Rice drove up to the house.

“They started to haul butt and our guys chased after them, caught them and brought them back to the house,” said Matthews.

Harkins had outstanding traffic warrants and was out on probation from North Carolina where Garrison is also wanted on drug charges. North Carolina waived extradition, according to Matthews.

Four grams of meth plus the equipment were seized. Four grams is equivalent to .14 ounce. Matthews said an ounce of meth can sell for between $500 and $2,500.

All of the meth equipment was portable, said Matthews, meaning it could have easily been packed up and carried to another location.

“Agents have found meth labs in the trunks of cars, which allows them to be moved from place to place,” he said. “That’s what usually makes them so hard to bust -- they manufacture the product and then go to another location. By the time you get probable cause, they’re gone.”

That wasn’t the case this time, but that didn’t make seizing the lab any less dangerous.

S.C. Law Enforcement Division agents trained and equipped to deal with clandestine labs and a private company specializing in cleaning up meth labs were called to the scene.

“There are substances that, when released, if you breathe them in can kill you. They’re also highly flammable. When you go in, you don’t want to turn on the lights if it’s not ventilated. With the buildup of these chemicals, flicking the light on can cause a spark and ignite the entire room,” said Matthews.

Small “car trunk” meth labs can be equally dangerous. Matthews said he knows of cases where agents have opened up the trunk to such a lab and been overcome by the fumes.

They are also expensive to clean up, Matthews said.

“Large meth labs can cost up to $200,000 to clean up,” Matthews said. The one on Lake Shore Road will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 to dismantle.

He said federal funds are typically available for clean-up through the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Matthews said Saturday night’s arrests are just one part of a concerted anti-drug effort underway in Kershaw County. He said he has hired two narcotics officers out of Richland County, and is beginning to work with surrounding jurisdictions and with Camden’s ALPHA Center.

In fact, Matthews said he “absolutely agrees” with an assessment of drug abuse in Kershaw County by ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper.

“We have a very good county; our county is one of the best I know of in the state to live in, but we’re poised at a point when our neighbors -- Sumter, Richland and Lee counties -- have severe gang problems, and other kinds of problems that are bleeding over into our county,” said Napper. “It’s time to make a stand and put a stop to it.”

At the ALPHA Center -- which focuses on helping people, including teens, deal with alcohol, tobacco, drug and other forms of abuse -- Napper said his staff is beginning to hear about robberies being committed by people from outside Kershaw County.

“Just like with the gang grant, we don’t want to go downhill. We want to improve on what we’ve got. A lot of good’s being done to keep people out of drugs, but we’re also concerned with our county and our neighborhood -- keeping violent people out of our neighborhoods,” he said.

Napper said Kershaw County will likely see more problems, namely “bath salts” that can be snorted, smoked or injected; and “alcopops” -- the caffeinated alcoholic beverages State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk of Camden is trying to get outlawed.

“Drugs turn people into monsters,” Matthews added.

Brian Franklin Evans is the 45-year-old man charged with strangling his estranged wife and beating and shooting a Mt. Pisgah man.

“He came from a good family,” Matthews said, “but the word is that he was a crack user. That’s highly addictive, too.”

The sheriff said investigators are still working on a specific motive for Evans’ actions. At the time of Evans’ arrest, Matthews had said his drug use could be a factor in the homicides.

The last time anyone was arrested for manufacturing meth was March 2005. David W. Poarch, then 47, and his wife, Doris Jean Poarch, then 44, were arrested following a tip that led deputies to stake out a group of mobile homes in Elgin.

Investigators found Doris Poarch using a gas generator -- a key component in the manufacture of meth. In the Poarch’s case, they were manufacturing a type of meth commonly known as “crank.” A total of 26 grams of crank were found in their home and David Poarch’s van. Other drugs were found, leading to additional charges

David Poarch was sentenced to 15 years in prison for trafficking crank; his wife was sentenced to three years on the same charge. At the time, they were also facing similar charges out of Lexington County.

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