Fiery meth lab burns two

Published 4:55 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two burn victims who reported to NorthShore Regional Medical Center in Slidell, La., prompted an investigation into a Picayune motel room, where what appeared to be illegal activity was taking place.

The two suspects, identified as Robert Foss, 36, of 4841 Magnolia St., Slidell, and Amanda Frierson, 29, of Saucier went to the hospital Monday morning to receive care for severe burns, said Capt. George Bonnett of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department.

According to an article in the Times Picayune, the couple drove themselves to the hospital in a maroon Jeep, where they were later transferred to Baton Rouge.

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The Slidell Police Department was notified that the couple’s vehicle had been taken from the hospital shortly after their arrival to the hospital, Bonnett said. When the vehicle was found, officers discovered that Foss’ father had taken the car and stopped to get rid of the source of a strange smell in the vehicle, which he dumped in a dumpster at a gas station, said Capt. George Bonnett of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Department.

“I don’t think he knew what was going on,” Bonnett said.

The Slidell Police Department notified the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Department who later notified the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency of what appeared to be methamphetamine chemicals that were found in the vehicle and dumpster. The DEA then contacted their contracted clean up crew to take care of the toxic chemicals, Bonnett said. He said the gas station and surrounding area are now clear of the toxic substances.

Currently no charges are filed against the two suspects, but if the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department does find enough evidence, then charges of operating a clandestine lab could be filed against the suspects. If convicted the suspects could face between five to 25 years in prison and about $25,000 in fines, Bonnett said. No charges are expected to be filed against the father.

The Picayune Police Department also is conducting an investigation and if the department does file charges, then the couple could face up to 30 years in prison in Mississippi, Deputy Chief David Ervin said.

Ervin said the Picayune Fire Department and Police Department were notified Monday morning of the incident by the Slidell Police Department. The departments were told that the accident took place while the victims were allegedly cooking methamphetamine at a hotel room located on Cooper Road, Ervin said.

The Picayune Fire Department and the associated Hazmat team responded to the hotel room where they tested the air quality and checked for additional victims. Ervin said no additional victims were located and the air quality was satisfactory. The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics was called in to conduct a lab clean up.

Picayune investigators discovered the a burned shower curtain, a clear tube in the toilet bowl, an empty bottle in the tub and casings of alkaline batteries in the bathroom, Ervin said. Scorching was observed in other areas of the bathroom.

Bonnett said mobile labs such as the one suspected in this case are particularly dangerous because they operate in enclosed conditions where noxious fumes and flammable gases build up. It is suspected a candle was introduced into the alleged meth lab and the fumes ignited, causing minor burns to the bathroom and severe burns to the suspects’ hands, legs, chests and faces, Bonnett said.

Chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine are dangerous if they are inhaled and if they touch the skin, Bonnett said.

Typically with mobile methamphetamine labs manufacturers rent a motel room for a day and set up a cook area. When the manufacturing process is complete, the room is left with a mess to clean up, Bonnett said.

Both Bonnett and Ervin said they don’t see many mobile labs in their respective areas. Ervin said a methamphetamine lab was discovered in Picayune about five years ago and was a mobile lab in a motel.

“We hope this is not an indication of increased drug activity within our city,” Ervin said. “We will continue to work hard to protect the city against the manufacture and distribution of drugs. The officers and firefighters who are committed to the protection of the community are at risk when they have to deal with these types of situations.”

Ervin asks if any one in the community knows of any illegal drug activity, such as methamphetamine labs, to call the police department. He said unusual odors in the community could be an indication of the manufacture of methamphetamine.