It wasn’t exactly a scene out of Breaking Bad.
Authorities say the two men suspected of making methamphetamine in a commercial warehouse in Hoonah were cooking meth in plastic soda bottles.
It is what law enforcement refers to as a “one-pot” lab, and is also known in popular culture as “Shake & Bake” labs.
“One-pot is a nickname because basically the chemical reaction is all done within the one pot,” explained Sgt. Chris Russell, a member of the drug task force that processed the meth lab at Hoonah Cold Storage last week. “It’s contained to a one pot. It doesn’t have to be in one bottle here, another bottle there or here — it’s all contained in the one pot.”
Usually, 2-liter soda bottles are used, Russell said. But in this case, the suspects used three different 16-ounce soda bottles.
The drugs were in an active chemical reaction stage when police arrived on scene, according to charging documents. An affidavit states police obtained permission to enter and search the warehouse from Jim Voller, the person responsible for the warehouse, after receiving a tip.
Police located two men inside and arrested them on suspicion of drug misconduct at about 6:45 p.m. last Wednesday. The Alaska Bureau of Investigation, which oversees the statewide drug enforcement unit, identified them as Gary Chamblin, 49, of Hoonah, and David B. Pierce, 36, of Oregon.
A police affidavit indicates Chamblin admitted to police in a later interview that he and Pierce were in the process of manufacturing methamphetamine when police entered the warehouse.
Pierce was the person actually completing the process, while Chamblin admitted he supplied the pseudo ephedrine to make the meth, the affidavit alleges.
The Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs (SEACAD) task force processed the lab since they are certified to process and investigate clandestine laboratories, or what they call “clan labs”, Russell said.
Russell, who served as the site safety officer, said SEACAD members in safety gear and HAZMAT suits carefully removed items for evidence for about four hours. What wasn’t submitted to the crime lab was destroyed by a company approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Drug Enforcement Administration coordinates the clean up, Russell said.
Among the materials SEACAD seized as evidence were pseudo ephedrine pills (which were ground in a coffee grinder to be mixed into the one-pot), lithium batteries, bottles of lye, kerosene, and glassware, such as test tubes.
“Some of the glassware was laboratory grade glassware that you would see like in a college science room,” Russell said in a recent phone interview.
It is not know how long the lab has been in operation, or how much methamphetamine it had produced. Russell estimates that with the operation that police interrupted could have probably yielded “a few grams” in each bottle.
The soda bottle one-pot method may not be technologically advanced, but Russell says it actually still poses a huge risk to the public because of its potential to combust if its gases are exposed to water, or even moisture in the air, Russell said.
“The dangers of the one-pot is the combustibility of it, and the danger is too, unfortunately, sometimes people that use the one-pot to manufacture meth, they’re obviously not disposing of it properly,” Russell said. “Sometimes they’ll leave it there, sometimes they’ll throw it in a ditch, sometimes they’ll throw it in the woods, and the danger is to the public.”
He added, “To manufacture meth, you don’t need to have a huge building dedicated to it, like a factory line or something. All you need is a bottle, which would be easy to conceal.”
Chamblin and Pierce are each charged with one count of second-degree drug misconduct for being in possession of methamphetamine precursors and listed chemicals with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. That’s a class ‘A’ felony that can be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
They are being held in custody in lieu of $50,000 and are scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Friday afternoon. That hearing will be vacated if an indictment is issued before then.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.