Meth suspect says wife was burned fixing hot dogs

Jeff Bobo • Jul 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins County woman who police say was badly burned in a meth lab explosion Saturday night near Rogersville spent her 19th birthday Tuesday at the Vanderbilt University burn center in Nashville.

On Tuesday the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office released the name of Opal M. McKeel, 791 Tuggle Hill Road, Rogersville, who was 18 on Saturday when she allegedly suffered burns in a meth lab explosion but turned 19 on Tuesday.

Her husband, James Clearance McKeel, 31, also of 791 Tuggle Hill Road, Rogersville, remained lodged in the Hawkins County Jail on Tuesday on $50,000 bond, charged with manufacturing meth, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, destruction of evidence and manufacturing marijuana.

Sheriff Roger Christian told the Times-News he’d received reports that Mrs. McKeel suffered third-degree burns on parts of her body and was listed in stable condition at Vanderbilt.

There was some new information released Tuesday by the HCSO, specifically about the McKeels’ alleged explanation for the fire.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday HCSO Sgt. Chad Gillenwater was reportedly contacted by an anonymous caller who said there had been a meth lab explosion at 791 Tuggle Hill Road. Investigators believe the explosion took place at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, after which Mr. McKeel brought his badly burned wife to the Hawkins County Memorial Hospital emergency room.

Mr. McKeel then returned to his home and allegedly attempted to conceal evidence of the meth lab explosion that occurred outside the residence. Deputies, including Gillenwater, arrived at the McKeel residence at 9:11 p.m. and reportedly detected an odor associated with meth manufacturing.

“Mr. McKeel denied any knowledge of a meth lab and stated that his wife, Mrs. Opal McKeel, had been burned while cooking hot dogs,” Gillenwater stated in his report.

Deputies allegedly found meth lab components and ingredients during an initial search of the McKeel residence Friday night. Detectives returned Sunday and allegedly found a burned area outside the residence and more meth lab components buried in the yard.

Christian said that no hot dogs were found near the burn site.

“I think that was a tall tale they told some of the hospital staff as well,” Christian said. “We found enough evidence at the scene to dispel the hot dog defense.”

Christian said there was no information available Tuesday on how long it will take for Opal McKeel to recover from her injuries. He added, however, that she will be questioned upon her release from the hospital.

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