Mount Carmel suspect in meth explosion faces felonies
MOUNT CARMEL - A 30-year-old borough man taken into custody Sunday night for allegedly operating a "one-pot" methamphetamine laboratory that exploded inside a garage faces multiple felony charges, including arson.
John K. Carl, of 46 E. Avenue, was arraigned at 11:15 a.m. Monday by Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones and committed to Northumberland County Prison in Sunbury in lieu of $100,000 cash bail.
He is charged by Patrolmen Matthew Dillman and Justin Stelma with felonies of arson, operating a methamphetamine laboratory, manufacturing methamphetamine and causing or risking a catastrophe, and misdemeanors of recklessly endangering another person and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A second person was detained in handcuffs at the scene but is not a suspect, police said.
'Never give up'
The charges relate to an explosion at about 8:45 p.m. Sunday in an East Cherry Street garage in Carl's backyard, which is located between Hickory and Oak streets, just six doors away from the residence of Mayor J. Kevin Jones.
The mayor issued a statement Monday about the incident.
"The combination of vigilant neighbors on our streets, a top notch police force and dedicated emergency personnel is the only way we can take back our community from drugs and drug dealers," he said. "We can never give up on this constant battle and I know we will not."
Carl, who suffered respiratory burns, was taken into custody after the explosion and subsequently transported by ambulance personnel to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where he underwent emergency room treatment before being discharged Monday morning.
He is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing on the charges Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Jones' office.
According to a police affidavit, Stelma detected a noxious odor coming from the garage. While looking through a garage window, Stelma identified materials used to make methamphetamine, including lye, ice packs, salt and lithium battery strips. Stelma then knocked on the window and Carl turned toward him before scooping up the materials and running to an exit.
"He knocked on the window and the guy got spooked," Police Chief Todd Owens told The News-Item Sunday night.
Owens said Carl and Stelma met at the end of the garage and the bottle exploded, noting that too much agitation will cause a violent chemical reaction.
Stelma was not seriously injured. He was decontaminated as a precaution, Owens said.
Further risk of explosion was minimal, police said.
The fire from the explosion was extinguished by firefighters, who assisted police in evacuating houses immediately neighboring the scene.
Members of the Northumberland County Hazardous Materials Response Team assisted firefighters and police at the scene. A Pennsylvania State Police Clandestine Lab Response Team also provided assistance.
After obtaining a search warrant from Jones, police searched the garage at about 12:35 a.m. Monday and found a partially melted white container and melted plastic bottle outside. Inside the garage, officers discovered a table containing household lye drain opener, three cold compresses, a plastic bag containing clear zipper bags and coffee filters, a plastic bag containing empty battery packs, empty bags and lighter fluid. Also on the table were casings of lithium batteries and several pliers.
Near the table, officers found a clear plastic bag containing plastic zipper bags, coffee filters, a gas tube, a cold compress box containing seven lithium batteries, a soda can, a soda bottle with a gas tube attached, table salt, used lithium strips and a bag of coffee filters.
Police also located three methamphetamine smoking pipes in the garage.
'Shake and bake'
Police said in the process of manufacturing methamphetamine, salt and drain cleaner are mixed together in containers such as water bottles to produce hydrogen chloride gas, which is known as a "gassing generator."
The process is commonly referred to as the "shake and bake" or "one-bottle cook."
Police said the hydrogen chloride gas from the "gassing generator" is bubbled through ether or other common solvent and the methamphetamine solution to form methamphetamine crystals, which fall to the bottom of the solution. The ether/solvent solution containing methamphetamine is filtered to recover the finished methamphetamine.
According to police, the hydrogen chloride gas is toxic, corrosive and flammable and can cause respiratory and eye burns, permanent injury or death.