ELIZABETHTON — Carter County may have set a dubious record Wednesday, when three alleged methamphetamine manufacturing operations were uncovered.
Sgt. Harmon Duncan of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department said the activity began Tuesday night when the Elizabethton Police Department made three arrests on methamphetamine charges.
Kathy Lynne Hilton, 42, 149 John Alfred Loop; Jorge Juan Shoun, 40, 149 John Alfred Loop; and Darrell David Lewis, 40, 191 Old Stoney Creek Road, were arrested by Elizabethton officers on charges of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture and conspiracy to manufacture schedule II narcotics.
The Elizabethton officers contacted Duncan because it was believed the three suspects were operating out of a location on John Alfred Loop in the county.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Duncan and Deputy Matt Ainsworth went to 149 John Alfred Loop, the residence of Kathy Hilton, who had been released from jail on bond. Approaching the residence, Duncan said he passed a burn pile in the yard. He said he saw the remnants of partially burned plastic bottles containing a solid residue.
Duncan and Ainsworth talked with Hilton and obtained her consent to search her home and property. Agent Kelly Huff from the sheriff’s department’s drug unit arrived to assist during the search. Both Duncan and Huff are certified clandestine methamphetamine lab technicians.
Duncan said several items were recovered from the exterior of the residence that were recognized by the trained officers to be indicative of meth manufacture using the one-pot method.
The Tennessee Meth Task Force Hazardous Wast Disposal Unit was dispatched to the location. Lt. Mike Little and Lt. Patrick Johnson of the sheriff’s department assisted in the investigation.
Duncan said “a huge volume of trash in the yard and outbuildings were searched, recovering even more components of meth manufacture to include sale, ammonium nitrate, cut lithium batteries, lithium residue, drain cleaner, lye, acetone and camp fuel.”
Several “gasser” bottles and “cook” bottles were also recovered and their toxic contents neutralized.
No arrests were made at the time, pending the results of further investigation.
While the investigation on John Alfred Loop was going on, Duncan received a call from Carter County 911 informing him that Deputy Mike Freeman had responded to 1806 Highway 91 to check on a black backpack found on private property that might hold a portable meth lab.
When they completed their work on John Alfred Loop, Duncan, Ainsworth and Huff, along with the meth task force, went to Freeman’s location. Huff determined the backpack contained a mobile lab, missing only camp fuel and cold pills.
There was evidence a few yards away from the backpack of a car crash that had been investigated by the Tennessee Highway Patrol Monday night. The accident report indicated the driver was Dwayne Edward Oliver. Duncan said Oliver had previously been arrested on meth-related charges. He was also the subject of a joint investigation with the Elizabethton Police Department on recent purchases of cold tablets containing psuedoephedrine, lithium batteries and other components used in methamphetamine manufacturing.
Duncan said the investigation is continuing and no arrests have been made.
When the officers cleared the scene from the second meth lab investigation, Duncan said they went to a location on Sneed Hill Road, where a worker at a private home had reported seeing several plastic bottles in the woods that were suspected to have been involved in meth manufacturing.
The Carter County Drug Unit and the Meth Task Force truck arrived, where they found a roadside meth dump. Duncan said it is common practice for meth manufacturers to toss cook bottles and gasser bottles from moving vehicles. He said cook bottles almost always have residue of lithium and fuel solvent remaining in them, which can react violently and possibly catch fire if disturbed, even after laying somewhere for days or even weeks.
Duncan said no one should pick up a plastic bottles found along the road that contained unusual residue inside. He said they should call 911 and report the location. He said in addition to possible fires, the bottles can also emit acidic hydrogen chloride gas.
Lt. Mike Little said that while it is certainly uncommon to recover three meth labs in the same day in Carter County, it is always a possibility. Carter County has had reported the discovery of 10 meth labs since Jan. 1.
Sheriff Chris Mathes said the number of meth labs uncovered in Carter County places it among the top counties in the state. He said that is not just an indication of how many meth labs there are in the county, but also the aggressive stance the department has taken toward identifying meth manufacturers and investigating their operations.