ELIZABETHTON — One of the largest methamphetamine dump sites in Carter County history was discovered Sunday afternoon by deputies who had been called to the scene on suspicion of domestic violence.
“It was definitely a big one,” Lt. Mike Little said. “There were more than 20 1-pot cooking bottles.” He said the garbage near the house also contained cold medicine packs that were used to provide the active ingredient, pseudoephedrine. Other items found in the garbage were empty cans of Coleman lantern fuel, cold packs containing ammonium nitrate and other items.
Little said the dump site was so large it required the department to call in four meth lab technicians to clean it up. The sheriff’s department normally uses only one or two meth lab technicians to clean up a dump site. Even with the extra manpower, Little said it took more than four hours to clean up the site.
Little said the discovery of the meth lab came about because the family of Heather Renee Stevens, 29, suspected that her boyfriend, Lance Daniel Nidiffer, 33, may have been hitting her.
Acting on the family’s concerns, deputies Michael Freeman and Sgt. Kenny Cornett went to 121 Riverbottom Road to investigate. Little said Stevens was at home and they found bruising on her that suggested she may have been the victim of domestic violence. While they were investigating, the deputies noticed a chemical smell in the home and received consent from Stevens to investigate.
As they went through the house, Little said they encountered “a heavy, heavy chemical odor,” and other indicators of meth manufacturing. As the odors got stronger, Little said the deputies backed out and contacted him and the department’s Special Operations Unit.
Little said the unit found numerous components commonly found at methamphetamine manufacturing operations. An outbuilding was found to contain a large amount of household garbage where most of the evidence was found.
After going through the evidence, Little said Sgt. Harmon Duncan determined that in addition to Stevens and Nidiffer, four others were reportedly involved. They were James Melvin Brummitt, 30; Cody Wayne Fletcher, 26; Noah Benjamin Lowe, 26; and Jesse Taylor Timbs, 29.
Little said warrants have been drawn on all of them on methamphetamine charges. He said Nidiffer also faces assault under domestic violence charges. Stevens was arrested on charges of introduction of the process intended to manufacture methamphetamine, maintaining a dwelling where illegal narcotics were sold and six counts of promotion of methamphetamine manufacturing. Little said Stevens’ 3-year-old daughter was found in the home. As a result, Stevens will also be charged with aggravated child endangerment.
Little said the Department of Children Services investigated and turned the child over to the custody of other family members. He said the DCS will review the case this week.
He said young children are frequently being found inside homes where methamphetamine is being manufactured. The strong chemical fumes lead to the children suffering respiratory problems and kidney problems, Little said.
“It is a health hazard and it is heartbreaking,” Little said.
Another troubling statistic Little recently learned is that Carter County was ranked as third in the state for the number meth labs uncovered. He said he does not believe the meth problem is any more acute in Carter than in surrounding counties, but the sheriff’s department has placed strong emphasis on detecting and making arrests for methamphetamine manufacturing.
He said Sunday’s discovery was an example. Little said the two deputies came to the residence on a complaint about domestic violence, but their training led them to detect the clues of methamphetamine activity and they followed through to discover the clandestine operation. He said without the emphasis and training, a law enforcement officer might have overlooked the clues.
Little said that while Carter County ranked as third on the list of methamphetamine labs, the sheriff’s department had a 97 percent solved rate on the cases last year.
“We are proactive and devote a lot of resources to the problem,” Little said.