Quiet Vandalia neighborhood has rude awakening as task force busts meth lab

A member of the Washington State Patrol Meth Response Lab tests items removed from a Vandalia area garage Monday. Nancy Butterfield photo

VANDALIA - Surrounded by red "hot zone" biohazard tape Monday, six members of the Washington State Patrol Meth Lab Response Team tested chemicals removed from a garage in the Vandalia area. The chemicals and equipment were stored in the garage, allegedly to set up a methamphetamine manufacturing operation.

More than a half dozen law enforcement vehicles, including the response team truck, pulled up in front of the home on a quiet residential street Monday morning, to execute a search warrant to recover illegal equipment and chemicals used in the manufacture of the drug.

Besides Long Beach Police Department officers, Chief Bruce Hall and an officer from the Ridgefield Police Department and lab team members from Olympia, Chehalis, Tacoma and Seattle descended on the garage.

According to LBPD Sgt. Flint Wright, the investigation began May 8 in Ridgefield after a confidential informant told police the equipment and chemicals would be brought to Pacific County. "We did a 'knock and talk' at the residence," Wright said, "got a consent to search and found the lab. We secured the residence and got a search warrant." The occupants of the home were "cooperating with investigators," he said.

Hall said his department received a report on May 8 that residents of an apartment in Ridgefield were dumping waste chemicals. After an investigation, Ridgefield officers served a warrant May 9 at a welding shop north of Ridgefield, discovered a clandestine drug lab and identified several suspects. On Mother's Day, Ridgefield officers arrested Joseph Burley, 33 of Ridgefield, in Troutdale, Ore.

"We put out an APB to Pacific County and Long Beach after the lab was discovered," Hall said.

On May 14, LBPD received a call of a suspicious man in the Vandalia neighborhood who had been standing outside the house for about two hours. After arriving at the scene, officers arrested Brett Brown, 45, of Vancouver on an outstanding no-bail warrant from Ridgefield for indecent exposure.

"They had probable cause to arrest him for manufacturing," Hall said. "He expressed an interest in cooperating with the investigation," Wright said. Brown was held in Long Beach and transported to the Clark County Jail.

The suspected chemicals and equipment were in a 2-by 3-foot plastic tote, emphasizing how simple it is for meth manufacturing operations to be transported and set up just about anywhere. Wright said law enforcement officers routinely notify motel and hotel owners as well as owners of rental houses to be on the lookout for the totes, which could easily pass for containers for picnic supplies or clothing.

"It's very dangerous stuff," Lt. Kevin Zeller, of the WSP response team, said. Some of the ingredients for manufacturing the drug include ephedrine, from cold medicine; red phosphorous, from wooden matches; iodine; solvent, such as acetone or xylol; and Red Devil lye.

"It was evident from the type of equipment and chemicals and the admission of the suspects that this would have been an active lab used for the manufacture of illegal drugs," Hall said.

State Department of Ecology workers were at the scene Tuesday to collect and dispose of the chemicals. Investigators still don't have an idea of the potential worth of the materials.

Wright said the state meth response lab is a "great source to utilize" in investigations of this type. "They are great guys to work with."

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