MANCHESTER – An active methamphetamine operation that posed potentially deadly consequences was discovered inside a Clay County home on Monday, February 12.
“This was one of the more dangerous methamphetamine labs we have discovered,” said Joel Cunigan, manager of Operation UNITE’s Cumberland Drug Task Force. “Anhydrous ammonia, a chemical used in the manufacturing process, was leaking from a storage tank. Breathing the fumes will destroy a person’s lungs and could easily result in death.”
Arrested at their Burning Springs home were 42-year-old Darrell W. Mathis and his wife, 39-year-old Carol Mathis.
Clay County Family Court Judge Gene Clark ordered the couple’s two children and a third child, a relative staying with them during the week, to be placed into protective custody of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“The callous disregard for these children’s safety is inexcusable,” Cunigan said.
Following up on information obtained during a three-month investigation of the couple, detectives from Operation UNITE and members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office went to the Mathis’ home on Robinson Creek Road about 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Upon arrival at the residence, located off U.S. 421 near the Jackson County line, officers smelled a strong chemical odor coming from the home and spotted a burn pile containing six starting fluid cans in the yard, Cunigan said. Through the windows they spotted a fertilizer bag inside the home.
Detectives knocked on the doors for approximately 15 minutes before Darrell Mathis was seen looking out an upstairs window. When Darrell came to the door he told officers he had been sleeping.
Darrell Mathis was immediately detained and officers went inside to make sure nobody else was inside.
About 3 p.m. Carol Mathis returned home and was also detained. A half tablet of Hydrocodone was discovered inside her purse.
As UNITE detectives waited on a search warrant for the residence, the three teen-age children were dropped off by their school bus. They were turned over to social workers from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which took them to Manchester Memorial Hospital to be checked out.
A search of the home uncovered two propane tanks and an oxygen tank containing anhydrous ammonia. One of the propane tanks was leaking inside the home, and all were “extremely volatile,” Cunigan said. In addition, detectives also discovered a container containing an “active” chemical reaction to produce methamphetamine.
Police also found 25 individually wrapped bags containing a total of 12.1 grams of methamphetamine, one Hydrocodone pill, and more starting fluid. Ether contained in the starting fluid is used in the manufacturing process.
Burning Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Sams and members of his department provided manpower and equipment for the six hours it took UNITE detectives to cleanup the lab. Also assisting were members of the Manchester Police Department.
Darrell Mathis was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, unlawful possession of meth precursors, second-degree controlled substance endangerment of a child, and first-degree knowingly possessing anhydrous ammonia in other than an approved container with intent to manufacture methamphetamine.
Carol Mathis was charged with second-degree possession of a controlled substance.
UNITE officials said the investigation is on-going and additional charges are possible.
Both Darrell and Carol were lodged in the Clay County Detention Center.
For more information about Operation UNITE visit their website at www.operationunite.org.