By JOE GORMAN
Combine methamphetamine chemicals and a car filled with gasoline and you have the makings of a volatile situation, said a police officer who specializes in drug cases.
Early Saturday those elements came together on Boardman-Canfield Road as officers pulled over a car that eluded them two weeks ago. They found what they think is a rolling methamphetamine lab.
Arrested and being held in the Mahoning County jail until their arraignments today in Mahoning County Court are Donny Thompson, 22, of Fenton Street in Niles; Joshua Curry, 20, of Briggs Road in Leavittsburg; Anthony Smith, 25, of Gillmer Road in Leavittsburg; and Phylicia Chalker, 22, of Robert Street in Vienna.
All face a single count of possession of chemicals used in the manufacturing of a Schedule 1 drug. Thompson, who was the driver, faces an additional count of driving under suspension.
Trumbull County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Orr, who heads the Trumbull-Ashtabula Law Enforcement Group Task Force, which specializes in drug investigations, said he knows of all four people but was not sure of any open investigations in which they may be involved.
Orr said Trumbull County has seen a rise in methamphetamine labs within the last six months, including the rolling kind where chemicals are stored in a vehicle to make the drug. He said the mobile trend has picked up since dealers figured out how to make the drug in a plastic two-liter bottle, which makes it easier to make on the run but also creates a dangerous situation because of the chemicals that are mixed to make it.
“They are way more dangerous,” Orr said of the mobile labs.
Compounding the problem, Orr said, is that often meth dealers also use the drug and sometimes it makes them hard to deal with in a tense situation. “They’re usually very paranoid people.”
Boardman police Sgt. Mike Hughes, who heads the department’s narcotics investigations, said Saturday’s arrest was the first mobile lab he has seen. He said it is not uncommon for meth makers to travel all over to buy the pseudoephedrine in cold medicines for the drug because pharmacies have a limit on the amount of Sudafed-type products a person can buy.
“They try to beat the system,” Hughes said.
Hughes said an average person seeing the assortment of chemicals and pills probably would have no idea what they were being used for.
Reports state officers spotted a car driven by Thompson about 2 a.m. Saturday on Boardman-Canfield Road near Hitchcock Road that was weaving and had no rear license plate light. An officer tried to pull a similar car over last month near the Walgreens on Boardman-Poland Road, but it turned down a side street and got away, reports state. At the time, officers went into the Walgreens and were told that a man had tried to buy a large amount of cold medicine but was not allowed because the computer system had detected repeated purchases of the same items.
After the car was stopped, police found out none of the four inside had a valid driver’s license and they began to check the car. They found a pink liquid known to be used in methamphetamine, a box of cold pills, a pill grinder, brake fluid and starter fluid, reports state. These are ingredients commonly used to make meth, authorities said.
Members of the Canfield post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol also assisted Boardman officers, reports state.
Court records from Trumbull County Common Pleas Court show that Curry, Smith and Thompson all face pending criminal charges. Curry was indicted by a grand jury in April on charges of misuse of credit cards and theft. Smith and Thompson were both indicted in March on charges of breaking and entering into unsecured homes.
Hughes said methamphetamine use is not as prevalent in Mahoning County as it is in some of the surrounding counties, including Summit and Trumbull, but said he has no idea why that is.
In Trumbull County, TAG agents serving a warrant found a meth lab in Leavittsburg on April 26, and portions of a meth lab were found April 23 in a yard on Douglas Street Northwest in Warren. Also, on March 31 in Newton Falls, a family on a walk reported seeing pieces of a meth lab in a wooded area.