Titusville Police have filed a number of felony and misdemeanor charges against two people in connection with a Sunday meth lab bust in the city; and officers here worry the growing shake-and-bake meth-making trend may signal an unfortunate return of the once prolific and dangerous homemade narcotic.
Santana Welker, 22, and Timothy Moyer, 31, were arraigned Sunday morning before Titusville District Magistrate Amy Nicols, according to court documents, and are currently being housed in the Crawford County Correctional Facility in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Titusville Police were tipped off to the apparent one-pot, or shake-and-bake, meth lab in a first-floor apartment, at 122 E. Main St., by a phone call.
A state police Clandestine Laboratory Response Team entered the home around 2 p.m., Sunday, processed the scene, and removed evidence.
According to court documents, “this was done within 1,000 feet of a public school” — the home is located within a block of Main Street Elementary School.
Evidence collected at the scene includes a glass jar, plastic bottle, tubing, and precursors used in the manufacture of meth, according to court documents.
The home included two other apartments, which were occupied with residents, court documents explain.
Welker and Moyer each face eight matching charges; and, if convicted on all eight, face a maximum possible sentence of 62 years in prison and $457,500 in fines.
Charges against the pair are: felony 1 operating a methamphetamine lab; felony 1 conspiracy to operate a methamphetamine lab; felony 3 possession of red phosphorous with intent to manufacture a controlled substance; felony 3 manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver; felony 3 risking a catastrophe; and misdemeanor charges of intent to possess a controlled substance (two counts); and use/possession of drug paraphernalia.
Neither Moyer nor Welker were tenants of the apartment, and court documents list them as having “no physical address.”
Ken and Yvonne Leach own the apartment building, and are landlords, having no other affiliation with the case.
Preliminary hearings have been scheduled for Dec. 12, at 3 p.m. for Welker, and 3:30 for Moyer, at Nicols’ office.
Police: ‘It’s back’
Titusville Police Patrolman Jason Bean, who was one of the officers initially responding to the Sunday meth lab bust, told The Herald on Monday that it appears the area may be on the verge of returning to the days of widespread meth manufacturing, adding to the ongoing epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid use.
“It’s back,” the 12-year law enforcement veteran said in a phone interview with the newspaper. “It may not be what it was like before, but this is how it started last time.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Titusville’s meth manufacturing boom led to the monicker, “Meth capital of Pennsylvania.”
Titusville resident Roger Coulter was ultimately found to be the mastermind behind local meth manufacturing, and was sentenced in August 2002 to serve 19 to 38 years in state prison.
In those days, the drug was manufactured in large labs, with massive amounts of equipment involved, to produce volumes of the crystalline drug for sale through a distribution network.
Today, the problem is mobile, small, and easily concealable. It’s manufactured largely for personal use and for small volume sales, according to police.
“We rebounded,” Bean said, “and they found a much quicker, smaller way to make it.
“Back in the day, people were making big meth, and running around selling it,” he explained. “Now, people are just making it on their own. It’s cheaper and more economical for them to make it rather than going out and buying it.”
The process often utilizes small, 2-liter soda bottles in which the chemical reactions inherent in manufacturing the drug take place.
“Now, you can make it in a plastic 2-liter bottle,” said Bean. “You can put it in a book bag, and just carry it around town.”
Carrying the meth lab around, shaking the chemicals, creates pressure within the container, requiring it to be occasionally “burped” to vent the dangerous byproduct gases.
“That gas can kill you,” Bean said. “These things could and can ignite, and cause an explosion or fire. It’s very dangerous.”
Bean said the newer method makes the process an easy one for the drug’s users and manufacturers to disseminate.
“These guys show each other how to make it, and they make it in their houses.”
After the meth-making epidemic of the late 90s and early 2000s was, in large part, eradicated from the area. The skills and community organizing effort that it took to clean up the area will be pressed into play to stem the growth of one-pot meth production, according to Bean.
“This department has been through this before… tracking it down,” he said, adding that law enforcement is again working to “stomp this thing out.”
“I don’t know how, but we’re going to give it a hell of a shot,” Bean said.
He noted that the new meth production process is “happening all over the U.S.”
As the much more concealable problem seems to be growing, it is critical for the community to report anything suspicious, he explained.
“If they see something going on that’s strange or seems odd, call us, and we’ll handle it. It really becomes a community problem, and it’ll take everyone to do it.”
Local law enforcement, both city officers and state troopers, according to Bean, have also seen an increase in overdoses.
He said that, over the past three to four months, reports of overdoses come into local police at a rate of about one every seven to 10 days.
The Herald placed calls to both the Meadville Medical Center and Titusville Area Hospital on Monday to confirm the increase in overdoses, but no information was available.
Bean said that, by his reckoning, the trouble may only be just starting.
“I think we are at the beginning stages, and I think we have a good chance of snuffing it out,” he said. “If we don’t, it could just explode.”
October lab bust
still under investigation
Titusville Police are still investigating a meth lab bust that carries similarities to Sunday’s incident.
On the night of Oct. 2, Titusville Police responded to a trespassing call at 420 Chestnut St.
Four people, none of whom legally lived at the rental property, were questioned by city police after officers and a state police Clandestine Laboratory Response Team discovered a pair of one-pot meth labs inside.
The last legal renter of the home was said at the scene to have been incarcerated at the time.
Police told the paper they were conducted follow-up interviews with the home’s owner, Paul Bossard.
The four persons of interest questioned by police were later released and deemed to not be flight risks, according to police Chief Harold Minch.
Less than a month later, on Nov. 6, flames tore through the home, as fire crews from Titusville, Hydetown, Cherrytree, and Pleasantville responded to douse the blaze.
The fire’s cause was ultimately ruled undetermined, but fire Chief Harry Caldwell told The Herald in previous interviews that he considers it suspicious due to the recent events surrounding the home, acknowledging the possibility that it could have been caused by an electrical problem.
Sterling can be reached by email, at email@example.com.