Hawkins County man who left burned wife at ER sentenced in meth lab explosion

Jeff Bobo • Feb 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins County man who left his severely burned wife off at a hospital emergency room following a meth lab explosion and later claimed she was burned while cooking hot dogs was sentenced to eight years in prison Friday by Judge John Dugger.

James Clearance McKeel, 32, 791 Tuggle Hill Road, pleaded guilty Friday in Hawkins County Circuit Court to manufacturing meth, promotion of manufacturing meth, possession of drug paraphernalia, and destruction of evidence relating to the meth lab explosion, which occurred near his home on July 6, 2008.

Aside from the eight-year sentence, McKeel was fined $2,725. He must serve 30 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Assistant Attorney General Doug Godbee said McKeel’s wife, Opal McKeel, will not be charged related to the meth lab explosion. She was transported to the Vanderbilt University burn center shortly after the explosion but has recovered from her injuries, according to court records.

According to Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office records, McKeel dropped off his wife at the emergency room of Hawkins County Memorial Hospital following the explosion and then returned home to destroy or conceal evidence of the meth lab explosion, which apparently took place outside the residence.

A Hawkins County deputy found McKeel at his home, and upon detecting an odor associated with meth manufacturing, the deputy took McKeel into custody.

Detectives from the HCSO Narcotics Division returned to McKeel’s residence the next day and found a burned area and meth lab components buried in a hole in the yard.

Based on the evidence recovered at the residence, detectives believe it is possible that someone was smoking near the lab and ignited the fumes.

A HCSO report stated that McKeel initially denied any knowledge of a meth lab and said his wife had been burned while cooking hot dogs.

Among the other guilty pleas heard by Dugger Friday were:

•Michael A. Maxfield, 26, 526 Church Lane, Church Hill, who was sentenced to two years and one day in exchange for a guilty plea to possession of Schedule IV narcotics with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a recreation center (drug-free zone). Maxfield must serve 100 percent of that sentence due to the proximity to a drug-free zone.

Maxfield was arrested by Church Hill police on June 11, 2008, for allegedly selling pills to youngsters at the municipal public swimming pool.

At the time of his arrest, Maxfield was wanted for failure to appear on auto burglary and drug possession charges. He was ordered to serve a two-year sentence on those charges consecutively to the trafficking charge, for an effective sentence of four years.

•Nena Marie Hammond, 20, 126 Summitt Hill Road, Bulls Gap, who was sentenced to two years and one day in prison and fined $250 in exchange for guilty pleas to vehicular assault, leaving the scene of an accident with injury, driving on a suspended license, violation of the open container law, and failure to show proof of insurance.

Hammond was arrested June 13, 2008, after she struck a motorcyclist on Route 66 just south of Rogersville, dragged the victim under the car a short distance, and then drove away, leaving the victim lying in the roadway.

•Roger Lee Dugger, 40, 7047-5 Carters Valley Road, Church Hill, who was sentenced to three years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea to attempted aggravated sexual battery. Dugger was originally charged with aggravated sexual battery after a 7-year-old boy told the HCSO that on Dec. 1, 2007, Dugger stuck a vacuum cleaner hose down the boy’s pants and touched his privates with it while it was on, and “that it hurt and made him very uncomfortable.”

During a subsequent interview with HCSO Detective Eve Jackson, Dugger reportedly admitted to touching the boy in an intimate area with the vacuum cleaner while the suction was on.

“Roger said he was sorry and told (the boy) not to tell, that it would get him in trouble,” Jackson stated in Dugger’s arrest warrant. “After he touched (the boy) with the vacuum he thought, ‘My God, I’ve just done something sexual to this child.’”

•Anthony Allen Dixon, 30, no known address, who was sentenced to three years in prison in exchange for guilty pleas to two counts of aggravated assault, felony evading arrest, felony reckless endangerment, driving on a suspended license, speeding, resisting arrest, and theft over $1,000.

Dixon was arrested by Rogersville police on June 5, 2008, after he fled from police at 108 mph in a stolen Lincoln sedan on Highway 11-W, nearly struck officers as they were clearing traffic out of his way at the Park Boulevard intersection, and then crashed into two occupied vehicles at the Hasson Street intersection.

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