Robot brought in for meth bust

Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:07 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Suspicious materials that police and firefighters thought might be radioactive explosives inside a Columbia home were the makings of a methamphetamine laboratory, police said.

Columbia police were called to 707 W. Sexton Road about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday by construction workers who were about to begin renovations on the one-story house. The workers told police they had stumbled upon fuel canisters and labels depicting radioactive symbols inside the vacant house, said Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Sapp.

Police evacuated neighbors within 300 feet of the house, then they called in Boone County and Columbia firefighters, as well as the Columbia Hazardous Materials Response Unit and the Boone County Fire Protection District bomb squad. A central command post was established in a parking lot at Sexton Road and Business Loop 70.

About noon, a small remote-controlled robot was sent inside the house to capture video and still photographs of the suspicious materials, said Lt. Amy Barrett, assistant fire marshal for the Columbia Fire Department.

“The robot didn’t find any reason the technical teams couldn’t go in,” Barrett said.

Two bomb squad investigators then entered the house and after about 30 minutes, they emerged to say that the fuel canisters was not radioactive or explosive.

Investigators recovered chemicals and tools used to manufacture methamphetamine, Sapp said. No one was injured.

Fire officials, who did not release the names of the two construction workers who reported the suspicious items, turned the matter over to the Columbia Police Department, which will conduct a criminal investigation, said Columbia police Capt. Marvin McCrary.

Missouri is the nation’s meth capital with nearly 2,800 meth lab busts in 2002.

“This is just another one that we bumped into,” McCrary said, “and it’s a strange way we bumped into it, too.”

McCrary said police would continue to collect evidence and would probably have more information today.

The house is owned by Neidermeyer LC, 1420 Countryside Drive in Columbia, according to the Boone County Assessor’s Office. The company could not be reached Tuesday.

Sexton Road was shut down during the evacuation, but it was partially opened to traffic by 2 p.m.

“Everything came together really good,” Sapp said. “We have to be able to know what we’re dealing with before we go in.”

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