SALEM - Columbiana County Drug Task Force agents and Salem Police raided the sixth suspected meth lab in the city within a year Wednesday, finding meth, heroin and the chemicals used to make meth in a home on West Pershing Street.
With guns drawn and a battering ram and search warrant in hand, they breeched the door at 922 W. Pershing St. near Dodge Drive after no one responded to their knocks.
Homeowner Christina Colian and several others were found inside, but no arrests were made at this point, pending investigation and lab results on items seized, DTF Director Lt. Brian McLaughlin of the Sheriff's Office said.
According to McLaughlin, a search warrant was secured in Common Pleas Court on Monday based on an investigation which began last summer regarding alleged sales of both heroin and meth and the alleged manufacture of meth at that residence.
Charges are pending, most likely through the county grand jury, possibly for the manufacture of meth and possession of meth and heroin, he said.
Colian lives at the residence with her son, James K. Colian Jr., 26, who was indicted in November for two counts of possession of drugs for allegedly having both heroin and methamphetamine in his possession on Sept. 18. He wasn't home at the time of the raid.
According to police, her daughter, Fallon Barnett, 30, also of the home, was taken into custody at 2:11 a.m. Wednesday on a secret indictment warrant for a charge of manufacture of dangerous drugs related to a suspected meth lab found on East Eighth Street in December. Officers saw her vehicle at the West Pershing Street residence and made the arrest, turning her over to a deputy who took her to the county jail.
The raid took place later during daylight hours. Colian, who was listed as the homeowner according to county property records, was taken to Salem Regional Medical Center for medical issues shortly after entry was made. An agent said later that she was treated and released.
A clandestine laboratory cleanup team from the Stark Metro Drug Task Force arrived and suited up with air masks and protective gear to clean out the dangerous materials. The Columbiana County Sheriff's Office also participated in the raid. The Salem Fire Department also responded as a precaution.
For many years, there had been no meth labs uncovered in Salem, but since February 2013, there have been at least six finds related to suspected meth labs, with two on West Pershing Street, one on South Howard Avenue (close to West Pershing), one on South Broadway Avenue, one on Eighth Street and one on Propect Street. The one on Prospect Street was reported by the homeowner who found materials in her basement after two people who had been staying there moved out.
McLaughlin said the DTF is "just chiseling away at it," while Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott said his department's going to continue actively looking for drugs.
"We plan on knocking down a lot of doors," he said.
Panezott said his officers have been at the home at 922 W. Pershing St. on several occasions for all types of issues, including looking for someone wanted for a drug indictment. He recalled police being there in November to serve a drug warrant and someone in the house denying any knowledge of the person.
"They were told then if there was any drug activity at that house, we would be back," he said, adding that Wednesday was that day.
Besides a small amount of methamphetamine and heroin, agents seized packaging materials, cash and chemicals to make meth. McLaughlin said a lot of these meth labs are using what's referred to as a "junk cook" or one-pot method where they're throwing all their chemicals into one container and waiting for the chemical reaction to create the meth. The amount of time it takes depends on the amount of materials and mixture of the chemicals.
"There's a great chance for flash fire at that point, too," he said, due to the volatile nature of the chemicals being mixed together.
He said there seems to be a lot of concentration here in Salem, but he's not saying it's not happening elsewhere in the county. He said it's possible one person was showing others in the city how to do it. He described meth users as a little different than other drug users, saying they're trading meth for pseudoephedrine, another drug being abused.
"We're seeing a lot more where heroin and meth are being sold together," he said.
Panezott said the city has a horrible meth and heroin problem. The drugs have been here, but he said it's getting worse. When he took over a year ago, he pledged to be more aggressive and instructed his officers to be more aggressive with traffic enforcement, which he said gives them more contact with the public. He said it's not about tickets.
He said "the investigative techniques we're using now are helping us to identify these labs quicker." He also noted that Salem now has an officer assigned to the DTF full-time and there's more participation in the DTF by other departments.
Officers have taken training on meth lab awareness and he's in the process of putting together some training for the officers who haven't and for the city fire department since they have to respond, too. He also commented about the suspects.
"Look at the people we're catching doing it - they're not rocket scientists. They're getting online and learning about it or learning about it from their friends," Panezott said.
The department isn't going to close its eyes and hope it all goes away. He said if it looks likes there's a drug problem, that's because there is.
He'll have even more eyes on the streets in the coming weeks as six new part-time officers join the department. He's already hired five of the six, pending their physicals, drug tests and psychological evaluations. At least two of the officers currently volunteer with the auxiliary force.