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Authorities seize mobile meth lab
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 • Posted September 30, 2009

The Llano County Sheriff’s Office made a second methamphetamine arrest in Kingsland last week. Deputies discovered a disabled minivan near Antone and Airway Streets in Kingsland on Tuesday afternoon, September 22, containing what appeared to be glassware associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Llano and Burnet County Investigators impounded the van and obtained a search warrant. The van contained 4,000 milliliters of methamphetamine oil, $5,000 worth of glassware, and precursor ingredients including 8,725 grams of solids and 17,723 milliliters of liquids. Authorities said these ingredients are capable of producing two to three pounds of finished meth.

On Tuesday, Kirby Whitaker, 37, of Kingsland, was arrested for evading arrest after deputies saw him near the van. On Wednesday, Whitaker was charged with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, a 1st degree felony, after the search warrant was executed and the van’s contents analyzed. He’s being held in the Llano County Jail on bonds totaling $52,000.

Area law enforcement agencies cooperated with the Llano County Sheriff’s Office in the arrest and investigation, including the Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Team, Marble Falls Police Department, Burnet County Special Operations Unit, Llano Police Department, and local ATF investigators.

As reported last week, Llano deputies arrested Russell Eugene Selman, 50, at 5307 Pair Street in Kingsland on September 20 and seized “a substantial amount of suspected methamphetamine” from the home. Since being released from the hospital, Selman has been held at the Llano County Jail on $60,000 in bonds.

Chief Deputy John Neff with the Llano County Sheriff’s Office said Whitaker and Selman know each other, and the Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the possibility of a connection between Selman and the mobile lab.

Llano County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Investigator Mark Burke credits the patrol deputies for spotting the van and recognizing the signs of a mobile meth lab. “The taxpayers of Llano County and Sheriff Blackburn have provided us with the tools necessary to do our jobs. We can’t ask for anything more than that. Our deputies on patrol get us the leads by doing their job every day.”

Methamphetamine, also known as speed, crank, crystal, ice or any of a hundred other drug culture names, causes brain cell damage evident long after drug abuse has stopped, according to a study published in Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology’s scientific journal.

Amphetamine use has an unusual history. Military pilots used amphetamines to stay awake during long flights to their bombing targets during wartime. College students used them to stay awake all night to study for exams and long distance truck drivers relied on them to stay awake behind the wheel. In the 1960s some people used amphetamines for entertainment. Then, in the 1970s as laws made getting amphetamines more difficult, their use all but disappeared. But the use of amphetamines returned, primarily in the form of the supercharged version called methamphetamine.

Meth is man made from chemicals, as opposed to cocaine and heroine which come from plants. A National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Report says the potency, effects and dangers of meth change with every batch since it is made in bootleg labs with no standard dose or formula.

In an interview Friday, Investigator Burke explained that Llano County is “no better and no worse than surrounding communities” when it comes to illegal drug use. Burke said meth use, distribution and manufacturing is an important law enforcement concern because of the “inherent dangers of meth.” Not only is meth highly addictive, it ravages the human body.

District Attorney Sam Oatman has been prosecuting meth dealers for many years. “When I started as a prosecutor 25 years ago, meth was virtually unheard of. But because it was easy to manufacture from available ingredients, meth use grew in the illegal drug community.” Oatman explained, “Now that federal and state laws have restricted the sale of the precursor ingredients needed to manufacture meth, much of the production is done in Mexico and brought into the United States.”

Oatman has seen first hand the effects of meth use. “The physical maladies such as the horrible sores and rotten teeth that are inevitable in meth users, not to mention the psychological effects, make this drug particularly dangerous.” Oatman said that keeping the community free of drug manufacturers and distributors is a high priority for his office which prosecutes felonies in Blanco, Burnet, Llano and San Saba Counties.

It’s not just law enforcement warning of the dangers of meth use. Back in 1965, poet Allen Ginsberg, the author of “Howl,” was quoted in an interview with the Los Angeles Free Press, an underground newspaper, on the dangers of speed, as the drug was called 40 years ago. “Let’s issue a general declaration to all the underground community, contra speedamos ex cathedra. Speed is antisocial, paranoid making, it’s a drag, bad for your body, bad for your mind, generally speaking, in the long run uncreative and it’s a plague in the whole dope industry.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse literature states that not only does meth have a very long duration of action in the body, chronic abusers exhibit symptoms that can include anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances and violent behavior. Meth users “also can display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions...(which) can sometimes last for months or years after methamphetamine abuse has ceased.”

Investigator Burke said that not every solution to illegal drug use results in handcuffs. “People go into law enforcement to make a difference, to help people. Sometimes that means putting a person in jail in order to help not only that person but also to protect the community. We use all tools available to us, including education, treatment and, yes, incarceration.”

Burke estimates that 75% of crime is directly or indirectly a result of illegal narcotics use, and said illegal drugs are still a major source of revenue for drug trafficking organizations including cartels such as the Mexican Mafia and prison gangs.

Burke said that meth sells for $100 to $120 per gram in the underground black market and a regular meth user goes through more than a gram a day. He said a gram of meth is similar in weight to a packet of sugar. Assuming the amount of ingredients seized in the van last week is capable of producing up to three pounds of meth, with approximately 454 grams in a pound, the potential street value of the meth that could have been produced from the impounded materials would have been $136,000 to $163,000.

While drug dealers ruin lives and make fortunes selling meth, law enforcement is faced with the cost of cleaning up the debris left after a drug lab bust. Investigator Burke said the cost to dispose of the glassware seized in the van might be $20,000 to $30,000. “We can’t just put the chemicals and glassware in a land fill.” After officials took photographs and videos of the evidence seized last week, Burke said they called in a special disposal company from San Antonio to properly dispose of the glassware.

Chief Deputy Neff summed up the Llano County Sheriff’s Office’s commitment to protecting its citizens from the physical, mental and societal dangers posed by meth use. “Possession and distribution of narcotics, specifically methamphetamine, will not be tolerated in Llano County. We will use all available resources, including other local agencies, as well as state and federal agencies to meet our goals.”

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