Tenant’s junk sparks meth investigation

The abandoned items were first thought to be part of a meth lab
Thursday, February 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:00 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

What police and fire investigators said might be the makings of a methamphetamine laboratory inside a Sexton Avenue house were nothing more than old welding equipment, chemistry textbooks and radioactive warning stickers, according to an MU student who rented the house last year.

Around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, police and firefighters arrived at a vacant house at 707 W. Sexton Ave. after two maintenance workers reported finding suspicious materials that could be used for radioactive explosives inside the house.

Neighbors living within a 300-foot area around the home were evacuated as officers from the Columbia Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Response Unit sent a remote-controlled robot and a bomb squad inside the house. A portion of Sexton Avenue was closed to traffic and residents until about 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Police and fire investigators found nothing illegal inside, but recovered radioactive warning stickers, a textbook that could be used to make bombs, starter fluid, batteries, electrical cords, charcoal fluid, a propane gas tank and cold medication.

Investigation closed with no arrests made

Columbia Police Capt. Marvin McCrary said no arrests were made. The police investigation was closed late Tuesday evening, he said.

“We found things that could be used to make meth, but none of it is illegal,” McCrary said. “We found no meth inside.”

MU senior Dustin Newman, 24, said he rented the house beginning in June as a work studio and storage space. Newman, a biochemistry/microbiology major, said he moved most of his belongings out of the house about four weeks ago. He said he left the items police confiscated Tuesday because he knew the house was scheduled to be demolished soon.

Newman said he used to be a professional welder and still manages a local record label that packages promotional radioactive warning stickers inside its mail-order compact discs and records. Some of the notebooks left inside the house contained equations from old college classes, he said.

Student sees investigation as absurd

Newman said it was amusing to see television reports that police were investigating his former apartment as a possible meth lab.

“I thought it was kind of absurd and it kind of made me laugh,” Newman said. “(Police) could have just as easily said you have the components of a meth lab in your own house.”

The suspicious odors that investigators smelled inside probably came from a leaky gas stove that the landlord had failed to repair, Newman said.

McCrary said investigators did not overreact by evacuating the block.

“It’s better to err on the side of caution than not do enough,” he said.

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