NEW CUMBERLAND - A judge has reduced the bond of several people arrested last week in connection with a suspected methamphetamine operation.
Four suspects appeared before Hancock County Magistrate Scott Hicks and waived their right to a speedy preliminary hearing on Friday, a week after their arrest on felony charges of possession of precursor to manufacture methamphetamine and exposure of children to methamphetamine manufacturing.
Hicks reduced the bonds of Joel T. Shafer, 22, and David J. Duffy, 22, both of New Cumberland, to $20,000 cash or surety ($10,000 per charge). Their bonds had been set at $80,000 following their arrest May 16 in New Cumberland.
Hicks spoke briefly with Duffy's father, who said his son could stay with him if he is approved for pre-trial release.
Also appearing before Hicks on Friday were Gregory A. Virden Jr., 23, of Chester, and Jay T. Kinzie, 22, of New Cumberland. Kinzie's bond is $80,000 and Virden's is $44,000, according to Magistrate Court records.
All four men are being held in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville. Shafer and Duffy are scheduled to return on June 6, while Virden and Kinzie have preliminary hearings set for Friday morning.
Virden was arrested May 16 after New Cumberland police Lt. Jeremy Krzys spotted him driving northbound on North Chester Street (state Route 2) without a seat belt. Krzys was working a special detail in which he was looking for seat belt violations.
Once he had Virden pulled over, Krzys smelled what he thought was an odor of marijuana coming from the car, according to the criminal complaint he filed in Magistrate Court. Virden claimed the car was his girlfriend's and that any marijuana was hers, the complaint said.
While Krzys was checking the backseat, he saw items commonly associated with the manufacture of methamphetamines-a bottle of lighter fluid, a hot plate and plastic bottles containing an unknown substance, the complaint said.
Krzys surmised that the vehicle was a "mobile meth lab," and he and sheriff's Deputy Brandon Woofter, who was assisting, backed away from the car. West Virginia State Police officers were called to collect and process the materials.
Virden allegedly told Krzys that he had been cooking meth for months, that the mobile meth lab was his and that he had forgotten to take it out of the car.
Virden faces charges of possession of precursor to manufacture methamphetamine, driving under the influence, driving under suspension (non-DUI) and possession of marijuana, as well as a seat belt citation.
New Cumberland police Chief Lester Skinner said Virden also is on probation for federal drug charges.
Information obtained during the traffic stop led police to two New Cumberland apartments and the arrests of Kinzie, Duffy and Shafer, Skinner said.
"We were working information to obtain a search warrant, but we didn't have enough at that time to get them. That arrest (of Virden) ... that kind of sealed everything up for us," Skinner said.
Kinzie, Duffy and Shafer had been under investigation for methamphetamine manufacturing since January, and the two apartments-above the New Cumberland laundromat and on Doyles Alley-had been under surveillance, Skinner said.
"(Virden) was seen at both places. His car had been seen at their houses," he said. "They're all tied together; they all run around together."
During the May 16 search of 907 1/2 N. Chestnut St., Apt. 3, where Kinzie lives with his 5-year-old daughter and her mother, officers found a suspected active meth lab in the refrigerator freezer, as well as equipment, meth on a plate, a meth recipe and two itemized notes of supplies and chemicals needed, according to a complaint filed in Magistrate Court by sheriff's Detective John Robinson of the Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force.
The complaint said the girl's bedroom and the nightstand containing the suspected precursor materials were less than a foot apart. Kinzie allegedly said he was cooking meth in the room next to his daughter's bedroom and was venting the toxic fumes out the window, according to the complaint.
The girl was not home at the time of the search, but the "relative danger of methamphetamine production placed the child living in the home at an extreme risk," the complaint said.
Duffy is believed to have purchased pseudoephedrine, a necessary ingredient in the manufacture of meth, at Citizens Drug Store in Chester about an hour before the apartment was searched, the complaint said.
The apartment is considered contaminated until it is tested for chemical exposure and cleared by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Skinner said.
Also on May 16, Drug Task Force officers executed a search warrant at Riverside Apartments on Ferry Road in Chester, said Chester police Chief Ken Thorn.
That led to the arrest of James M. Hinzman, 28, and Elizabeth Jane Yano, 26, on charges of possession of precursor to manufacture methamphetamine.
Appearing before Hicks on Friday, Yano entered a not-guilty plea. Hicks reduced her bond from $40,000 to $10,000, and her case was waived to Hancock County Circuit Court.