Meth scare at Kmart prompts search

June 23, 2004|EMILY BURTON

A brown Pontiac Bonneville, Madison County plates stuck above the missing back bumper, was the central point of a mobile methamphetamine lab scare Tuesday in the heart of Kmart's parking lot.

The lot was cleared by police and a wide parameter held for several hours as firefighters in yellow biohazard suits approached the suspected lab and looked inside the vehicle's open windows. A large plastic container, believed to be potentially deadly fertilizer needed in the manufacturing of meth, could be seen sitting on the floorboard behind the cracked driver's seat, but a working lab was not found and the lot reopened soon after.

The car came under suspicion as a mobile meth lab after loss prevention officers with Kmart witnessed a woman allegedly shoplifting additional meth ingredients, such as Sudafed, Actifed and Aleve. But it wasn't until the female was detained outside the store that the parking lot became a hot zone, and one large red and blue light special.


"We snatched her," said loss prevention member T.R., who declined the use of his full name. "We were walking to her vehicle, and we noticed the big thing in the back of her vehicle, and we said, 'Whoa, back up.'"

"A Kmart employee saw something in a jug in the car, that they suspected, as well as something covered up in the car," explained Lennie Shepperson, Boyle County director of emergency management.

T.R. and partner J. then notified the local authorities, who had swarmed the scene within 15 minutes.

A HazMat vehicle from Somerset was on the scene within an hour, joining Danville Fire department, Boyle County Emergency Medical Service, Danville Police Department and state police.

All left soon after it was decided no hazardous substances were present in the rusted Pontiac. The female suspect was taken into custody by Danville police, and a report on the incident was filed by T.R.

"It was just an average shoplifter; this just went overboard," said T.R.

While the incident ended as a false alarm, it was only one of a few potential labs even suspected in the city limits, said Police Chief Jeff Peek.

"Our experience has been very minimal, with the number of them found in the city."

If mobile labs are ever found by police, it is usually by accident, he added. Since meth is made with common household items, quickly and with little space needed, a lab can be set up one night and gone the next, said Peek.

Mobile labs are typically uncovered during traffic stops, or in homes when officers are called out for a domestic dispute.

State police are usually called to clean up the toxic waste, since the process is cost prohibitive to small cities, said Peek.

"Cities don't generally want to be involved in the cleanup of it, because it's very expensive to clean up even a mobile meth lab, and because there's only certain places you can take it and dispose of it."

Tuesday's incident at Kmart carried a cost for loss prevention officer J., who watched the investigation from nearby, a tear slicing across her designer Calvin Klein jeans.

"But she was dedicated, she didn't care about ripping a $40 pair of jeans," said T.R. of his partner.

And of the lesson learned Tuesday? T.R. smiled, "Making meth at Kmart, you can't win here."

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