ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County investigators believe a woman who was brought by her husband to the emergency room in Rogersville with severe burns on Saturday night was injured in a meth lab explosion.
The woman has since been transported to the Vanderbilt University burn center in Nashville, and her husband, James Clearance McKeel, 31, 791 Tuggle Hill Road, Rogersville, has been charged with manufacturing meth and other charges.
The name of McKeel’s wife could not be confirmed by authorities as of Monday evening, although Hawkins County Sheriff Roger Christian said he’d received a report that Mrs. McKeel was listed in stable condition at Vanderbilt. Christian said the woman will be questioned after she is released from the hospital.
Mr. McKeel allegedly brought his wife to the Hawkins County Memorial Hospital emergency room around 9 p.m. Saturday and then returned home, leaving his wife at the hospital.
Christian said McKeel allegedly returned home to destroy or conceal evidence of the meth lab explosion, which apparently took place outside the residence.
A Hawkins County deputy later found McKeel at his home Saturday after McKeel returned from the hospital. Upon detecting an odor associated with meth manufacturing, the deputy took McKeel into custody.
Detectives from the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division returned to McKeel’s residence Sunday and allegedly found a burned area and meth lab components buried in a hole in the yard. There were also numerous other items associated with meth manufacturing allegedly found on the property, including several mason jars containing psuedoephedrine tablets soaking in ether, empty psuedoephedrine boxes and blister packs, punctured starting fluid cans, tubing, lithium strips, lithium batteries, and a large container of ammonia nitrate.
McKeel has reportedly refused to make a statement to detectives regarding the apparent explosion and his wife’s injuries.
Christian said the type of meth lab that McKeel was allegedly operating gives off extremely volatile fumes.
Based on the evidence recovered at the residence, detectives believe it is possible that someone was smoking near the lab and ignited the fumes, Christian added.
“We don’t know exactly how it ignited, but at some point she was around it and there was an explosion or a flash, and she was burned,” Christian said. “They had several mason jars with pills soaking in ether, and the fumes coming off of that are quite flammable. The meth cook is a chemical reaction and there is no open flame, but if you light a cigarette or smoke near it you can ignite those fumes.
“They definitely did something that ignited that cook.”
Aside from being charged with manufacturing meth, Mr. McKeel faces charges of felony possession of drug paraphernalia, destruction of evidence and manufacturing marijuana for four marijuana plants allegedly found growing near the residence. He remained lodged in the Hawkins County Jail on Monday on $50,000 bond.
“This is the first (Hawkins County) meth lab that’s actually caught on fire and burned like this in quite a while,” Christian said. “After the legislators passed a law making it difficult to obtain some ingredients it seemed like meth production slowed drastically. It’s by no means gone, though, as is evident by our recent chain of events.
“You don’t find the big labs that you used to but obviously the small ones are still dangerous and run the risk of fire and explosion.”
Hawkins County deputies made an unrelated meth manufacturing arrest on July 2 as a result of a traffic stop on Christopher Glenn Stubblefield, 34, 2227 East Main Street, Rogersville.
HCSO Sgt. Greg Larkin and Cpl. Keith Long observed Stubble field leaving a residence where he’d reportedly been staying and stopped the vehicle because Stubblefield was wanted on a failure to appear warrant from Hawkins County Criminal Court.
Stubblefield was stopped in a 2007 Grand Prix at the intersection of Route 70 and Main Street in Rogersville, and a search of the trunk allegedly revealed him in possession of a one gallon jug of muriatic acid, a 50 pound bag of ammonia nitrate, lithium batteries, starting fluid, mason jars, and other materials associated with meth production.
Stubblefield was taken into custody and charged with promotion of meth manufacturing and felony possession of drug paraphernalia.
There were two passengers with Stubblefield, including the owner of the vehicle, Sherry Kaye Roark, 44, 2227 E. Main St., Rogersville. Roark reportedly submitted to a search of her residence, where more meth lab components and ingredients were allegedly found, including ephedrine pills soaking in ether.
Roark allegedly also had several pills in her possession. She was charged with promotion of meth manufacturing, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of Schedule II narcotics, possession of Schedule IV narcotics, violation of the Tennessee Drug Control Act and maintaining a dwelling where drugs are sold or manufactured.
The second passenger, Eric Scott Crabill, 34, 157 Shelby Road, Rogersville, was charged with promotion of meth manufacturing and felony possession of drug paraphernalia.