MOREHEAD – Nearly 200 homes were evacuated as a precaution after an active methamphetamine lab was discovered when law enforcement officials served a search warrant Wednesday afternoon in the Clearfield Estates Mobile Home Park.
Operation UNITE arrested 24-year-old Nicholas Sorrell, of Mcbrayer Road in Clearfield, on one count each of manufacturing methamphetamine and first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance (methamphetamine).
“Residents were placed in considerable danger by this operation,” said Paul Hays, deputy law enforcement director for UNITE. “Mr. Sorrell callously disregarded the safety of others each time he produced methamphetamine within this subdivision.”
The type of production method being used by Sorrell creates phosphene gas – “a very deadly, odorless, colorless and tasteless gas,” Hays explained. “The ‘cooking’ stage is also a very volatile time, as any sudden temperature change can trigger an explosion.”
A search warrant was obtained for the home based upon evidence gathered during an approximately six-month investigation that involved detectives from Operation UNITE, the Morehead Police Department, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Kentucky State Police Drug Enforcement Special Investigations Unit, and the U.S. Forest Service.
“Each of these agencies had a part in putting this case together,” Hays said. “The Morehead Police Department was especially helpful throughout the investigation.”
Police recovered approximately 5 grams of processed methamphetamine inside the home.
More suspects have been identified in connection with the investigation and more arrests are expected.
At about 4 p.m. seven UNITE detectives accompanied by four officers from the Morehead Police Department went to the home to serve the search warrant.
Upon entering the home they spotted materials involved in making meth in the kitchen and found Sorrell in a bathroom. He was immediately placed under arrest and everyone retreated outside until cleanup crews could arrive.
“Fortunately we caught Mr. Sorrell between production stages, a time when the potential danger was relatively low, but we didn’t know that until our crews arrived to clean up the lab.” Hays said. “Anyone exposed to the chemical fumes during production could experience long-term health problems or lung damage.”
Authorities immediately ordered everyone living within a 1,000-foot radius of Sorrell’s home to be evacuated as a safety precaution. This included approximately 150 trailers in three mobile home parks and 50 nearby houses.
Morehead Mayor Brad Collins opened the Perkins Community Center as a shelter, while Rowan County Public Schools Superintendent Marvin Moore allowed children to play inside Clearfield Elementary School – which is located less than one-quarter mile from the scene.
Units from the Morehead Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, Region 8 Haz-Mat Team and Rowan County Emergency Management assisted in securing the scene.
“Anything we wanted or needed was made available to us,” Hays said. “We really appreciate the professional support and assistance they provided.”
A UNITE meth lab clean-up crew arrived from London about 7:30 p.m. The scene was declared safe enough to allow residents back in their homes about 11 p.m.
Sorrell was lodged in the Rowan County Detention Center.
For more information about Operation UNITE visit their website at www.operationunite.org.