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Southwest Virginia officer treated after being exposed to meth lab fumes

Wes Bunch • Aug 24, 2013 at 7:03 PM

DUNGANNON — A Southwest Virginia law enforcement officer was forced to seek medical treatment this week after being exposed to fumes at a methamphetamine cook site that was discovered in a barn in Scott County.

According to the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, a Southwest Virginia Drug Task Force officer had to be evacuated from the location on Buckner Road near Dungannon early Thursday morning and taken by rescue squad to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport after he inhaled fumes produced by chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine.

The officer — whose name was withheld due to the nature of his work — was reportedly treated and released.

The officer was wearing protective equipment, including a mask and respirator, when the incident occurred.

Southwest Virginia Drug Task Force Commander and Virginia State Police Special Agent Chris Gilley said the barn appeared to have been used as a meth lab and waste dump site on numerous occasions.

“The chemicals and components there were consistent with the one-pot cooking method,” Gilley said.

Although the exact chemical the officer inhaled was not immediately known, Gilley did say the ingredients used to make meth can react and create respiratory toxins like ammonia and hydrochloric acid gas.

“Even after somebody has cooked methamphetamine and left the components there, it’s still active because when you begin moving those chemicals around they’re not dead, they’re dormant,” Gilley said. “Many times that movement will cause them to reactivate and start off-gassing, or producing chemical fumes. So no matter how old the lab is, you have to look at it as active because of the mixed chemicals.”

Gilley added the incident illustrates the danger drugs like methamphetamine present to law enforcement on a daily basis.

Although no arrests were made in connection with the lab, Gilley said an investigation is ongoing.

Scott County Sheriff John Puckett said Scott County deputies were originally in the area on a missing person call early Thursday morning when Scott County Central Dispatch received an anonymous call warning them of a possible meth lab and dumpsite in the area.

At that point, Puckett said drug task force officers were called in to investigate the lab, which was discovered in the barn on Buckner Ridge Drive.

Puckett said sheriff’s office deputies continued their search and were eventually able to locate the missing man, who was identified as Robert Clark, 55, 252 Buckner Ridge Road, Dungannon, after several hours.

Puckett said Clark was arrested on multiple charges after he was allegedly found trying to break into a neighbor’s house.

As a result, Clark was arrested on a single felony count each of burglary and possession of burglary tools and a misdemeanor count of vandalism.

Puckett said Clark had broken out several windows at his neighbor’s home and was in the process of entering when deputies took him into custody.

Clark also appeared to be intoxicated at the time of his arrest.

Clark is currently being held without bond in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Duffield.

Both Puckett and Gilley said anyone with information regarding the Dungannon meth site, or others in the county, should contact the Scott County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 286-1385 or (276) 386-9111.

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