By David Howell
SCOBEY – A sprawling meth-amphetamine investigation has led to two arrests, a fugitive hunt and the recovery of two stolen four-wheelers.
The hunt began for Yalobusha deputies on June 17, after a call came in to the Grenada County Sheriff’s Department reporting a strong odor commonly associated with an active meth lab. The home was located at the Yalobusha/Grenada county line on Hardy Road.
Initially deputies with Grenada and Yalobusha set up surveillance in hopes of catching the suspect in the act, but had little success, according to Sheriff Lance Humphreys. A portion of the property was in Grenada County and the house was situated in Yalobusha County, warranting the multiple department operation.
“Our next step was to search records at area pharmacies with hopes of discovering that our suspect was purchasing pseudoephedrine,” Humphreys explains.
The sheriff and investigator John Camfield spent several days in Batesville, pouring through logs documenting purchases of the common sinus and cold medicine. These pills are a necessary ingredient to cook meth and a state law requires each purchase to be documented with the purchasers name and address.
After examining numerous store records, deputies were able to obtain multiple names of Yalobushians who had purchased pseudoephedrine.
Meanwhile reports were also coming in from several other areas in the county, specifically in the Tillatoba and Scobey area about possible meth activity.
“I told my guys to hang out in Tillatoba and run driver’s license checkpoints,” Humphreys said. The hunch paid off, when deputies made a traffic stop on Hwy. 51 last Monday, June 22.
“We stopped two men after they attempted to avoid a driver’s license checkpoint,” Humphreys explained, adding a burned out headlight also gave deputies reason to stop the vehicle.
Both occupants in the vehicle, Travis Burt of Charleston and Brian Rideout were charged with possessing precursors to manufacture methamphetamine.
“This is a serious crime, it carries up to 30 years incarceration and up to a million dollar fine,” Humphreys said about the arrest. The precursors, which were in plain sight, included a coffee can containing ammonia nitrate, liquid drain cleaning chemicals, red dye, and coffee filters.
A search of the pharmacy records revealed that Rideout had purchased pseudoephedrine in Panola County, Grenada County and Tallahatchie County, links that could be important in obtaining a conviction.
“It appears that they are loose links involving some of the meth cookers in our county, the pharmacy records had addresses provided these connections,” Humphreys added.
With Burt and Rideout locked up, deputies continued investigating the tip about Hardy Road.
“We spent several nights hiding in the woods, trying to catch the occupants in the house cooking meth,” Humphreys said.
Another tip helped speed up the action when deputies learned that one of the occupants of the house, Johnathan Winters, was wanted by authorities from Leflore County for an indictment. Deputies again set up surveillance at the home, located at 2360 Hardy Road, last Thursday night, June 25.
After waiting several hours, they decided to make a move.
“We had also obtained intelligence from Winters’ mother, who was locked up in Tallahatchie County, that a stolen four-wheeler may be at the residence.
“When we started up the driveway, Winters, who was standing in the yard, took off,” Humphreys said. He eluded capture, and law enforcement officers are currently searching for him.
The four-wheeler, which had been heisted from Leflore County, was recovered. The four-wheeler was linked to a second stolen four-wheeler, which had been recovered a few days earlier after it had been abandoned on County Road 55. Both four-wheelers had been taken from the same owner in Leflore County.
Winters, who is a convicted felon, could face charges for having possession of stolen property and being a felon in possession of a firearm, plus resisting arrest when he is apprehended.
“We are looking for Winters, but he is probably not in the county,” Humphreys said.
Combating The Crime
Tougher laws have made it easier for law enforcement to track potential meth cookers, but a Supreme Court ruling has also placed a greater burden on law enforcement to obtain a warrant when a lab is suspected, according to Humphreys.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that the smell alone is no longer grounds for a search warrant,” the sheriff explained. “Normally we don’t go into detail about our investigative techniques, but I want everybody to know there is a paper trail, it just doesn’t pay to get involved with cooking meth,” Humphreys explains. “You can bet that law enforcement from our county and other counties are constantly checking pharmacy records to see who is purchasing pseudoephedrine.
Although the recent investigation involves meth users suspected of cooking meth for personal use, instead of making it to sale, Humphreys said this type of crime creates a broad range of problems.
“The chemicals used to cook the stuff are extremely volatile, the cooking process itself poses a danger, not only to the cookers, but also to other people around,” Humphreys said, citing the 2003 Billy Bonner case in which a toddler received fatal burns after a meth lab exploded.
Most of the people involved in these meth investigations have previous arrests, according to Humphreys. Rideout has previous convictions, as does Winters.
“The restrictions place on actually purchasing the pills have also created a black market.
Meth users are actually going from store to store, buying pseudoephedrine, and then trading the pills for the finished product, according to Humphreys.
“We certainly can’t catch them all, but we can make it difficult for them to do business in our county,” Humphreys said.
Meth labs often produce strong odors that smell like ether, ammonia, acetone, or cat urine. Humphreys urged anyone who notices, or specifically smells the suspicious odor, to contact Crime Stoppers or their local law enforcement office.
Potential tipsters will remain anonymous and could receive up to a $1,000 for their information.
Crime Stopper’s TIPS information may be submitted by calling (662) 473-4935 or 1-(866) 933-TIPS (8477); or by email to TIPS@YalobushaCounty.net.