, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2014

Port drug lab probe ongoing

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Drug Enforcement Agency officials and local police returned to a Christopher Street house yesterday to remove chemicals and items that were part of what police have identified as an illegal drug manufacturing lab.

“There were illegal drugs being made there,” City Marshal Thomas Howard said.

What exactly was being produced in the house has not been determined. The state is testing the substances found in the house. According to reports, the state fire marshal’s office stated the house was a “possible meth lab.”

“Meth” is short for methamphetamine, a powerful and addictive drug that has been a scourge in the West and Midwest. It can be produced in small home-based labs; however, the production can be a dangerous process, and can sometimes lead to explosive fires and the release of toxic gases.

Police first responded to the quiet side road located off Jefferson Street in the Atkinson Common area of the city around 3 p.m. Tuesday after emergency units responded to a medical aid call at 11:54 a.m. involving a man lying on the ground near the home.

The victim, whom Howard called a member of the family living there, was transported to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport where he was treated and released. Howard called the victim, around 50 years old, a person of interest in his department’s investigation into the matter but could not reveal more details. No arrests had been made as of yesterday, but Howard said he believed it was only a matter of time before someone was charged.

“My feeling is there will (be charges),” Howard said.

Yesterday morning, DEA agents, aided by local police and Merrimac police Chief Eric Shears, returned to the house and were seen removing jugs of chemicals, cans and other items. Items were photographed and then placed on a plastic sheet pinned to the ground just outside the house. The road remained closed to traffic. By 1 p.m., agents had left the scene and the road reopened.

The house is a small, one-story ranch-style home in a suburban neighborhood of the city. According to the city’s online assessor’s database, the house is owned by Christopher M. Kelleher Trust and was built in 1956. Howard said the house is known to have had many tenants over the years. The building inspector was investigating an illegal apartment within the house.

Neighbors declined to talk to The Daily News about the house and its inhabitants.

Howard said his department sent out a Code Red phone blast to area residents to let them know the house was cleared and the neighborhood safe.

The drug lab came to light Tuesday, shortly after the victim was found sprawled on the ground near the house. Howard said EMTs and police conducting a well-being check of the house following the medical aid call discovered a gray haze inside the kitchen. A search of the house found chemicals and laboratory equipment, leading local police to call in state police, state Hazmat units, a Drug Enforcement Agency rapid response team, North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council units and others.

On Tuesday, Christopher Street was closed to traffic for much of the afternoon and well into the evening as a phalanx of Hazmat trucks and a state police bomb squad truck clogged the narrow road. Residents stayed in their homes for the most part. Mayor Donna Holaday and Howard also spoke to a television news reporter shortly before 6 p.m.