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Meth lab in city house dismantled By DAVID MEKEEL Staff Writer
It was supposed to be a routine drug raid. It turned out to be anything but.
When officers from the Lebanon City/County Unified Narcotics Drug Task Force entered Matthew Shearer's home at 822 S. Sixth St. early yesterday morning, they expected to arrest Shearer on charges of manufacturing hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms. While that charge itself is a serious matter, what they ended up stumbling across was an entirely different story.
"There are chemicals in there consistent with a methamphetamine lab," said Cpl. Steve Danko of the state police in Erie.
Danko is a member of one of the state police's two Clandestine Lab Response Teams who are called on to deal with dangerous chemicals associated with the making of drugs such as Ecstasy, MDMA and methamphetamines. Labs where these drugs are made are dangerous because of the toxic chemical fumes and the possibility of violent explosions.
Discovering the lab was a rare and surprising feat for the local drug task force. The last time a lab of its kind was discovered in the county was eight years ago in North Lebanon Township, sai chief county Detective Paul Zechman, the lead detective at the scene.
Methampetamines, which users snort, smoke or inject, are becoming a more popular drug across the state, Zechman said.
"You don't see a lot of them, but they're starting to spring up all over the place," he said. "We can anticipate seeing more of these."
The lab in the South Sixth Street house was not a particularly large operation, Zechman said, but it was dangerous nonetheless.
"Anytime you're dealing with methamphetamines, you have the risk of explosion," he said.
Danko said that, because of the type of process being used at the site, the risk of explosion was especially high. He said that the lab contained red phosphorous, ephedrine and many other highly volatile chemicals, most of which were found in the kitchen cabinets.
Because of the danger, police closed the 800 block of South Sixth Street while CLRP members, wearing white full-body safety gear, cautiously entered the small two-story house.
Piece by piece, they brought chemicals and equipment out of the house, taking samples for use back at their own lab before securing them for transport by a HazMat unit.
Neighbors were not evacuated but were told to remain inside their houses. Zechman said they were not evacuated because the lab was not operational.
At 6:30 p.m., just over three hours after arriving on the scene, Danko reported that all of the chemicals had been safely removed from the home. He also reported that the lab was functional but nonoperational, meaning all the necessary pieces were in place, but no drugs were being made at the time.
Shearer was charged yesterday morning with one count each of criminal attempt/manufacture of psilocybin, criminal attempt/possession of psilocybin and possession of drug paraphernalia. Psilocybin is a hallucinogen found in some mushrooms.
Zechman said Shearer will also face a new list of charges relating to the lab.
Along with the drugs, Zechman said, about $1,800 and two guns -- one rifle and one .45-caliber handgun -- were confiscated from Shearer's home. The house, however, had not been fully searched because officers evacuated the building as soon as they discovered the dangerous drug-making chemicals, he said.
Both Zechman and Danko said finding a lab in a somewhat heavily populated area is somewhat unusual. Most of the 128 labs that were busted by CLRP last year were found in more rural areas, especially in the western part of the state, Danko said.
This year, however, Danko said, an increasing percentage of the more than 40 methamphetamine labs have been found in the eastern part of the state, especially in Bedford County.
One of the reasons for the methamphetamine boom is how easy it is to learn how to make it.
"Most people just get recipes from the Internet," explained Danko.
The ingredients are easily available.
Neither Danko nor Zechman were able to give an estimate of the value of the drugs and chemicals that were confiscated.
After his arraignment at central court, Shearer was transported to the county prison.
Police said 20 of the 21 drug dealers targeted in yesterday's sting were taken into custody, arraigned and were taken to the county prison.