MOUNT CARMEL - The various chemicals used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, or "meth," are not only toxic, but can also be highly explosive. Tuesday afternoon's discovery of a portable meth lab at a home on South Beech Street resulted in a couple being taken into custody, forced the evacuation of several residents, caused a decontamination zone to be established and angered neighbors.

The chaotic atmosphere began at about 1:30 p.m. when adult probation officers from Columbia County and local police went to serve arrest warrants on Jason Hunsinger, 33, and his 30-year-old girlfriend, Kim Metcalf, of 244 S. Beech St., and came upon a methamphetamine lab in a bathroom/laundry room on the first floor.

Mount Carmel Sgt. Todd Owens, who served as commanding officer at the scene, said Hunsinger was wanted for a probation violation, while a bench warrant was being served on Metcalf for failing to appear for a court date in Columbia County.

Owens, a field supervisor with the Northumberland-Montour Drug Task Force who was joined at the scene by several other borough and Mount Carmel Township police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel, quickly ordered a square block area around the home to be cordoned off to protect against possible contamination coming from the half double, its occupants and a dog and cat found inside.

Hunsinger and Metcalf were escorted from the home by law enforcement officials and detained in the back of a police cruiser and sport utility vehicle, respectively, until a hazardous incident response team from Shamokin Fire Bureau and a special operations unit from the Northumberland County Public Safety Department arrived to establish a decontamination zone that included an enclosed portable shower and chemical testing facility.

The decontamination process was coordinated by county public safety director Jerome Alex and assistant emergency management agency director Steve Jeffery.

After thoroughly being washed down in the shower between 3:10 and 3:30 p.m. to avoid possible chemical contamination, Hunsinger and Metcalf were transported by adult probation officers to Columbia County Prison in Bloomsburg.

Their dog and cat were turned over to friends and may undergo contamination testing by a veterinarian, police said.

Owens said the couple face charges of manufacturing or distributing methamphetamine, possession with intent to manufacture or distribute methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and a firearms violation. He said most of the offenses are felonies.

Residence inspected

At about 5:15 p.m., a state police clandestine lab response team from the Bethlehem area responded to the scene and began inspecting the methamphetamine lab and checking for potential contamination. Houses at 246 and 242 S. Beech St. are unoccupied.

During their two-hour inspection, Owens said the response team found various components of an active meth lab including narcotics and paraphernalia. He said a shotgun was found inside the home near the front door, while a non-firing replica of a handgun was discovered upstairs.

He didn't know the value of the equipment and paraphernalia seized in the raid.

Owens said the home at 244 S. Beech St., which is owned by Cynthia Snyder of Mount Carmel, has been condemned by borough code enforcement officer Robin Williams. Metcalf and Hunsinger had rented the home for the past three or four months.

He said neighbors were allowed to re-enter their homes shortly before 7:30 p.m. after the scene was secured.

'Volatile' components

Owens said, "Components of a meth lab can be fairly volatile because of the chemicals involved. We evacuated four of the neighboring homes and immediately summoned for assistance from the hazardous materials teams."

Although the lab was discovered Tuesday, Owens said authorities had been made aware that there was some type of "cooking go on" inside 244 S. Beech St., which is near the intersection with Sixth Street.

As more police and emergency personnel gathered at the scene, a large crowd of onlookers also formed, including several Mount Carmel Area High School students who were dismissed from their second day of school at 2:30 p.m. The school grounds are located approximately one block from where the meth lab was discovered, which means Hunsinger and Metcalf could face a mandatory two-year prison sentence for possessing drugs within a school zone if they are convicted.

Even though the school is located nearby, Owens said the students weren't in any danger of being contaminated and did not have to be evacuated. Mount Carmel Township Patrolman Brian Carnuccio, who serves as the school district resource officer, said an elementary school bus stop at Sixth and Beech streets was changed as a precautionary measure.

Neighbors react

Neighbors were clearly disturbed by the meth lab discovery that turned a calm, sunny summer afternoon into a long, hectic day for police, emergency responders and residents.

"This is sad," commented Mary Snyder. "We have to get this trash out of here. We don't need it here. There are young kids and elderly people living in this block. Something needs to be done. Don't the landlords do background checks on their tenants? I say take him back to Berwick."

One resident, who preferred not to be identified added, "This sucks. The neighborhood is getting out of hand. This is what happens when you have cheap housing in your community."

Neighbors reported seeing "heavy traffic" going in and out of 244 S. Beech St. during the past few months.

"Mount Carmel is a nice, family-oriented town, but now there are bad elements in the community that are destroying neighborhoods," stated Scott Ozment, 48, of 248 S. Beech St. "I noticed that house (244 S. Beech St.) always had the blinds down and the curtains and doors closed."

Dr. Robert Zavatski, 72, of 247 S. Beech St., a retired chiropractor, said he talked to Hunsinger only a couple times. "He told me he was on five blood thinners and had lupus," Zavatski said. "He also offered to do carpentry work for me. When they first moved in, they were very friendly, but the last three weeks I hardly saw them."

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini, whose office is assisting in the investigation, said the meth lab bust is the first to occur in Mount Carmel since the 1990s. He said methamphetamine labs have been discovered recently in neighboring counties.

"The by-products for making methamphetamine are extremely toxic and dangerous," Rosini said. "It's an expensive process to clean up a meth lab. We plan to prosecute Hunsinger and Metcalf to the strongest extent possible."

Rosini said strong odors coming from homes, blocked up windows, excessive amount of trash and heavy foot traffic are typical signs of meth labs. "It's vital to report any of those suspicious signs to police immediately," he said.

In addition to police and the hazardous materials response teams, other assisting units included Atlas and Clover Hose fire companies, AREA Services Ambulance, Mount Carmel Area Rescue Squad, Americus Ambulance of Sunbury, state constables and local fire police.

Clover Hose Ladies Auxiliary provided cold drinks at the scene. Vine Street Sandwich Shop also supplied drinks and hoagies.