UNICOI — Area officials were working well into Wednesday afternoon following the early Wednesday morning arrest of a Unicoi man for allegedly operating a methamphetamine lab in the Limestone Cove area and disposing of waste materials associated with the process in a nearby creek.
Gerald James Guinn, 56, 505 Lindsey Road, was arrested and charged with possession of a schedule II drug with intent to distribute, initiation of the process of methamphetamine manufacture, manufacture of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Sheriff Mike Hensley said investigators had been working on the case for about two weeks and had previously received information an individual was manufacturing meth at a barn located on Pitman Road, a private drive located in the Limestone Cove area.
Hensley said Guinn would prearrange for someone to drop him off at the location so he could manufacture the meth and so that no vehicles would be seen in the area. Once Guinn was finished with the manufacturing, he would leave the barn to meet the driver prearranged to pick him up, Hensley said.
On his way back to the vehicle, Guinn would stop on the small bridge that crosses North Indian Creek on Pitman Road and throw waste products associated with the “shake and bake” meth-manufacturing process, such as plastic drink bottles and bags containing lithium strips, into the creek. The rushing waters of North Indian Creek would then carry such items downstream in an attempt to dispose of them, Hensley said.
Hensley said said investigators with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Division had learned ingredients typically used in meth manufacturing had been purchased in the area. On Tuesday evening, investigators monitored the Pitman Road location and saw Guinn leaving the barn and getting into a vehicle parked nearby, Hensley said. The sheriff said officers were also set up at the intersection of Scott Road and Tenn. Highway 107.
As Guinn passed the intersection, officers stopped his vehicle. Hensley said there was a “strong odor of chemicals” in the vehicle. He also said Guinn had meth on him. Inside the vehicle, officers found objects associated with the components of a meth lab, Hensley said. Guinn was taken into custody at just past midnight Wednesday.
While Hensley said officials are unsure exactly how long Guinn has been manufacturing meth at the barn and disposing of the waste, they suspect it had been ongoing for some time.
“He has cooked up here several times,” Hensley said. “I can’t quote how many times, but right now they’re in the process of searching the creek. They have found several containers that are involved in the methamphetamine operation.”
Following Guinn’s arrest, Hensley said he and Chief Deputy Frank Rogers began searching the creek of North Indian Creek in the area of Pitman Road, where they recovered waste items from the operation, including plastic drink bottles still containing methamphetamine ingredients.
As of Wednesday afternoon, officials had recovered several drink bottles from the creek that they believe were used in meth manufacturing. Rogers said because these bottles still contain manufacturing ingredients, which Rogers said resemble “white-grayish sludge,” those who may come across them are asked not to move or agitate the bottles due to the possibility of a volatile chemical reaction.
“That’s the part you don’t want to move or agitate because the chemicals in there will react,” Rogers said. “It’s a fire hazard. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.”
Because of this and North Indian Creek’s use as a trout stream among local fishermen, officials are urging anyone who finds a suspicious item to contact the UCSD. Hensley estimates waste items could have been carried downstream a half-mile to a mile.
“We have several individuals fish this stream, and we wanted to get it out to the public that if any fisherman comes in contact with any of these bottles to give us a call immediately,” Hensley said.
At this point, Hensley said it is still safe to fish in the creek. Because North Indian Creek’s waters are controlled by the state, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was contacted to see if it wants to proceed with an analysis of the water, Hensley said.
Hensley said officials are working to find out who owns the Pitman Road property. He also said this marks the second meth operation his department has found in the past two weeks.
“This stuff is dangerous,” he said. “My office is going to take all precautions for the safety and well-being of the citizens.”
Guinn was arraigned in Unicoi County Sessions Court on Wednesday morning, where a $30,000 bond was set. He is scheduled to again appear in Sessions Court today.
Officials with the Erwin Police Department and Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force assisted at the scene and the EPD also assisted with the investigation, Hensley said. Anyone who comes in contact with suspicious items is asked to immediately call the UCSD at 743-1850 or call 911.