Burning it all after drug bust

Methamphetamine lab found in apartment; landlord forced to burn large part of contents

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2000

Many notes in the handwriting of accused drug producer Vicki Lutich were found at the apartment she had been renting on Back Loop Road. This is a sample:

"Must realize the importance and priority of the necessity and of the desire.

One: Dope remains the foremost factor.

Problems involved:

A) Getting it 2 here.

B) Heat

1) Laying lo (sic).

2) Traveling.

3) Trust (ain't got none)."

A phone call from her upstairs tenants alerted Wendy Rice to the possibility her downstairs renters were not quite what they seemed.

The upstairs tenants were distressed. In a call from Juneau to Rice's home in Washington state on Monday, the tenants said their portion of the two-story house was filled with fumes they couldn't identify and their kids were sick, nauseated.

As a former corrections officer, Rice immediately suspected a methamphetamine laboratory. She called the Juneau Police Department. Her suspicions soon were confirmed.

After obtaining a search warrant, the Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team (SEANET) raided the lower floor of the Back Loop Road home on Tuesday. They said they found evidence of methamphetamine production and distribution. Vicki Lutich, 26, and Ryan Emerick, 24, were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment, second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.

Rice has owned the $235,000 home since 1997. She moved to Washington state in August with her husband and children. On Wednesday, she flew back to Juneau to clean up the house and the hazards that were left behind. On Thursday, Rice and her friend Margaret Hunt wore masks to protect themselves from fumes as they emptied the 1,000-square-foot ground-floor apartment.

Outside in the yard, under the glow of Christmas lights, Hunt's son Lester was burning couches, linens, curtains - anything contaminated by the fumes.

"I am devastated," Rice said. "The most minimal cost (to repair the damage) will be $5,000. Because I accepted these renters, I may lose this house. I am about ready to cry."

Rice was alert to potential problems. She had inserted a no-drugs, no-smoking clause into the lease.

"Their references checked out; people lied for them," said Rice, who learned at an arraignment Wednesday that Lutich has methamphetamine charges against her in Washington state.

"Had I known that, she never would have entered these premises," Rice said.

"It's unfortunate that a true innocent landlord is a victim in these things," said Capt. Tom Porter of the Juneau Police Department. "Cleanup is a major problem, but I am not aware of any kind of assistance or compensation."

Rice, 34, was directed by the District Attorney's office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to get rid of anything in the apartment that could absorb fumes or residues. Stuffed chairs, food and the Christmas tree were tossed onto the flames. All carpeting will have to be replaced, even the tiles of the suspended ceiling, Rice said.

The apartment was filled with consumer trappings: a brand new television, DVD equipment, digital cameras, a new computer, and a video camera trained on the bed. Pornographic magazines and videos simulating violence also were found, Rice said.

The meth laboratory was set up in the laundry room. SEANET seized all drug-making paraphernalia in the raid, but beads of white caulk around pipes and along the baseboard indicated someone had tried to prevent fumes from rising into the upstairs apartment.

The precautions didn't work, and that's how the lab revealed itself, Rice said.

"The lab has contaminated everything," Rice said. "Metal things we can wipe off. Outside, there are crews that deal with hazardous cleanups. Here, I have to take care of it myself," she said, pulling on rubber gloves.

"It's sad that people take advantage of landlords and other people in the building. What they did has caused health repercussions for the tenants upstairs, and we have to come in here and breathe it," said Hunt as she helped Rice.

After 14 hours at the site, Hunt said the skin on her face was starting to peel.

After getting off the phone with her insurance agent, Rice was upset.

"I don't understand why I have insurance," she said. "They tell me if the place blew up, it would be covered. ... I want to say this to other landlords: Be cautious."

Christopher Carlson of State Farm's public affairs department in DuPont, Wash., told the Empire this morning "if there was physical damage - like moving a wall or altering the structure, that would be covered."

"But contaminants are excluded from a rental dwelling policy because a hazard like that is not contemplated in the premium," he said. "If we charged a premium big enough to cover that, no one could afford it."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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