Lakeshore Report

Lakeshore Report – Meth Trash Cleanup

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April 18, 2014 — Today on his beat in Starke county, Ind., drug detective Rob Olejniczak is on trash duty. He says it is not a trivial task, because this trash is toxic.

“Most people see it and they believe it is trash, but then, it’s usually not a familiar object that’s inside of the bottle,” he says. “It’s usually a powder or some type of residue.”

Olejniczak is a one-man methamphetamine detector, seeking debris discarded after “one-pot” or “shake and bake” efforts to produce a quick, crude form of meth.

“then they combine the ingredients into a pop bottle, a Gatorade bottle, any hard, plastic bottle, and then they go through the process of manufacturing meth.”

The bottles used to make the batches are then dumped on roads and in area fields.

“Meth has been a major problem in Starke County for quite a while,” says Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen. A report from Indiana State Police indicates 21 clandestine laboratories were uncovered and shut down in the county in 2013.

Cowen says patrolling a county of 300 square- miles with a 12-person department, and one drug officer is daunting.

“[ Olejniczak] stopped or put a stop to about 21 meth labs last year, and 10 or so already this year,” the sheriff says. “I think he does a pretty good job for being practically a one-man crew. We don’t have the man power nor the monies to clean up the meth lab areas and the state police come in and do that for us.”

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, it is protocol to the have Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Unit clean up the lethal litter.

“We are just a maintainer of records when it comes to meth labs,” says Dan Goldblatt, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “We make sure that people are certified to clean them. As far as things by the side of the road, that’s nothing that we have the authority to regulate. The legislature has chosen to not give us that power.”

Starke County officials have recovered about 50 bottles this year, which they report to the state police for pick-up.

“They bring in an Indiana clandestine lab team out usually on a routine basis to pick up any of the trash,” Cowen says.

Because the sheriff’s office is outnumbered by the growing bottle build-up, Olejniczak says there is no one way to spot or report the trash. He trains officers to lookout for suspicious waste.

On this day, the trash is left in the field to wait for state police to recover.

The Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Section regulates all meth crime scene evidence statewide, says First Sergeant Niki Crawford of the Indiana State Police in an email.

“Response time depends on time of report, location and evidence type,” she says. “There is no set answer,” to average trash recovery time.

Because of the potential interim gap between pick-up, officials warn residents to walk away from all roadside waste.

“The chemicals that they use to manufacture the meth, some can also burn your skin or do various harm to the kids,” Olejniczak says.

Officials warn residents should also be careful opening discarded duffel bags. Don’t open the containers and alert authorities because they could be harboring meth lab trash.

“They could produce gas and off-gas that could be going into their face to cause them injury,” Olejniczak says.

Laura Waterson moved to tiny Hamlet, Ind. three years ago from Elkhart, Ind. She lives near a trailer home police are investigating as a potential meth lab.

“You know, you move into a nice, cute community and you see how peaceful it is,” Waterson says. She says what’s lurking on area lawns is just as troubling.

“There are kids everywhere and they way they leave [meth] sitting out, it’s dangerous now,” she says. “When I lived in Elkhart, you seen it everywhere. A lot of that just laying around, floating in the river and stuff. You don’t see it here. That’s why this is such a shock to everybody they’re like (gasps). It’s like bringing it to your front door because it’s really so close.”

By: Hilary Powell

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