Pubdate: Tue, 26 Feb 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co
Author: Ron Clayton
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


ATHENS, Tenn. -- The blight of methamphetamine labs is spreading north from 
Southeast Tennessee, prompting U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp to propose some counties 
north of Knoxville be added to the Southeast Tennessee Methamphetamine Task 
Force list.

That would bring the total number of counties sharing the special drug 
funds for cleaning up the labs to 22.

"We're going to have to expand the scope to add more counties," Rep. Wamp, 
R-Tenn., told members of the Meigs County Chamber of Commerce on Monday 
during a noon luncheon.

He said the illegal labs are beginning to show up in Anderson, Jefferson, 
Unicoi, Granger and Clayborne counties, and as was the case in Southeast 
Tennessee, local budgets simply cannot handle expensive cleanup costs after 
busting the operations.

Rep. Wamp recently met with U.S. District Attorney Sandy Mattice about 
expanding the territory. Currently, an additional $1 million per year is 
added to the Drug Enforcement Agency's regular budget for the area to fight 
the drug trade.

Not only are meth lab numbers increasing -- Meigs Sheriff Walter Hickman 
said Monday his department has busted four just in the past few weeks -- 
but they also are becoming more high-tech and dangerous.

On. Feb. 21, the McMinn County Sheriff's Department Drug Abatement Response 
Team led a night raid on a laboratory where video monitoring equipment 
surrounded the house, said McMinn Sheriff Steve Frisbie.

The lab operator was watching the operation from the nearby woods with a 
Russian-made night-vision scope, deputies said.

Deputies began a search of the woods, and suspect Kerry Skelton yelled, 
"You've got 30 seconds to come out of the woods or I'm going to start 
shooting," according to police reports.

He rested a .45 Llama semi-automatic pistol on a stump and was aiming at 
Deputy Chris Miller.

Realizing he "was out-gunned," Mr. Skelton gave up without a fight, 
detectives said.

Inside the home, along with Mr. Skelton's 3-year-old son and 74-year-old 
mother, deputies found a pipe bomb, chemicals, methamphetamine other 
weapons and the surveillance system, police said.

Mr. Skelton is charged with operating the lab, possessing meth, and 
aggravated abuse of a child. He is currently in the McMinn County Jail on a 
$17,000 bond.

This is the third major lab shutdown in McMinn County this year, detectives 
said, adding the job is getting more dangerous with each bust.

Rep. Wamp said lab operators usually go to rural areas, because, like 
moonshine, meth labs emit strong, recognizable odors.

But unlike moonshine, "it is 50 times more deadly," he said.
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