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County meth problem growing


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Ever since Bea Banta moved with her husband into an apartment at Hurricane and Adams streets in Franklin, she’s been worried about some of the houses around her.

Banta regularly sees strangers coming by houses on Hurricane at all hours of the day and night, and police are called to nearby homes at least once a week, she said.

In the past two years, police have found a dozen meth labs throughout Banta’s neighborhood, which is about a half-mile from downtown Franklin, in or near houses on Hurricane, Yandes, Kentucky and Adams streets, according to data from the Indiana State Police.

Banta and her husband moved to the Franklin apartment two years ago after their Trafalgar home was foreclosed on, and she can’t afford to move.

She worries about drug activity. Her grandchildren stay with her every other weekend, and she doesn’t want them hurt by a meth lab explosion or by bullets fired during a drug deal gone wrong, she said.

“It’s just little walls here,” she said. “If someone starts shooting over there, it’s going to come over here.”

Since 2007, 83 meth labs have been found in homes, cars, motel rooms or out in the open in Johnson County.

Twenty-four of those labs were found in Franklin, 22 were found in Edinburgh, and 31 labs were found in unincorporated areas of the county, according to data from the state police.

The number of local meth labs has been rising during the past seven years. Four labs were reported in 2007, while 24 labs were discovered in 2012.

So far this year, 11 meth labs have been discovered, according to the state police data.

The state police’s meth suppression section responds anytime a meth lab is discovered, whether it’s set up inside a house or in a soda bottle on the side of the road. The state police officers don’t clean up the lab but take chemical samples and collect other evidence that can be used to prove meth was being made, section commander Sgt. Niki Crawford said.

During a meth cook, hydrochloric gas is generated, which is harmful to people; anyone exposed to the gas can suffer symptoms similar to the flu and respiratory problems. The gas can be absorbed into the carpet and walls of a room that’s been used to make meth and be present for months or longer, Crawford said.

After the state police collect the evidence from a meth lab, they notify the county health department, which issues a do-not-occupy order until the owner or landlord has the area cleaned by a company that’s been certified by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to clean up the chemicals and other materials used to cook meth, Crawford said.

Typically, hydrochloric gas and other chemicals used to make meth aren’t harmful on their own to neighbors or passers-by; but anyone nearby could be in danger if the chemicals, which are highly volatile, explode, Crawford said.

Meth lab explosions are what concern Julie Romero, who has lived on Kentucky Street near Hurricane Street for three years.

“If something was to blow up, that is kind of scary,” she said.

Romero, a mother of three, used to live on the west side of Indianapolis, but she moved to Franklin after hearing gunshots fired around her house too many times. She thought Franklin would be a safer place for her family; but a few months after the move she was walking home when police cars and fire trucks raced by. She eventually heard that they were responding to a meth lab found down the street.

Romero works third shift at NSK and usually comes home for lunch at 3 a.m., and during those trips she regularly sees strange cars and people stopping at nearby houses. Like Banta, she worries she’s living around houses where drugs are made or sold.

“I moved to Franklin from Indianapolis to get away from stuff like that,” she said.

The state police have started posting all of the addresses throughout Indiana where they’ve found labs or parts of labs online, though not all of the addresses posted have had labs inside them, north zone supervisor for meth suppression Sgt. Michael Toles said.

Sometimes police find open labs, which can be outside and close to a house. Those labs typically don’t need to be cleaned up, and sometimes the landlords or homeowners who own the properties have no idea a lab was found nearby, Toles said.

That’s frustrating for Travis Shepherd II, who co-owns rental property along Hurricane Street with his wife.

Shepherd bought the property about seven years ago, and at the time he knew most of the people who lived around the house. Since then, he’s heard about meth busts happening nearby. He doesn’t plan to try to sell the property, but it bothers him.

“I’m just concerned of Franklin in general,” Shepherd said. “You hear about it every day, somebody being arrested for selling drugs or meth.”

When local police start receiving regular reports of meth or other drugs being sold in a particular area, officers start conducting more regular patrols of those neighborhoods, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

One point of the patrols is to put a fear in dealers that they have a better chance of being caught, he said.

“I think it gives the law-abiding residents a little more peace of mind, letting them know police officers are patrolling the area,” McGuinness said.

Franklin police also use undercover officers to make drug buys when they get reports that someone is dealing meth or other drugs, McGuinness said. Sometimes the undercover officers may take more time and make multiple buys from a drug dealer; that way they’ll eventually be able to arrest the dealer on a felony charge, which will keep them in jail and off the street longer, he said.

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