Dangerous Discovery

It was an ordinary, sunny Wednesday and a routine 5-mile run. The green 2-liter pop bottle wrapped in plastic lying in a ditch on the side of road: that was another story.

The bottle seemed suspicious to Chris Clarkson, 19, and Devan Collins, 18. The two teens recently were jogging along Haddix Road between Sullivan’s Crossing and Bridgewater Estates. That’s where they spotted a clear plastic bag containing an emerald-colored bottle with a rubber band wrapped around the top. What looked like a solid white clump of sand had settled at the bottom.

At first, they ran past the bottle, but then curiosity – and concern – got the best of them.

“We thought it might have been something illegal, but we weren’t sure, so we kept going,” Clarkson said. “Then, we saw some little kids playing, and we didn’t want them picking it up if it was something bad, so we turned around and went back and got it.”

Collins, who is a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions, said he knew right away he and his friend had seen some type of illegal drug.

“I called it right off the bat that it was either crack or crystal meth,” said Collins, referencing the information he’d gleaned from being a member of SADD.

It turns out, Collins was spot on. The bottle contained residue from a shake-and-bake mobile methamphetamine lab, or as they’re also called, one-pot cooks, said Trooper 1st Class D.R. Wolford with the Elkins detachment of the West Virginia State Police.

Wolford, one of the few certified clandestine laboratory technicians in the area, was paged by Sgt. B.T. Pawelczyk with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, who was the first to respond.

Unfortunately, by that time, Clarkson and Collins already had scooped up the bag and bottle. The resulting contact with their skin left blisters and minor burns on their hands.

Samantha Clarkson, Chris Clarkson’s mom, who picked up the teens just a short distance down the road, also touched the bottle. She suffered even more severe burns to her hands and arms – burns bad enough that when Wolford arrived on scene, he told her to go straight to the hospital.

“My blood pressure was up. I was nauseous; it felt like my arm was on fire,” said Samantha Clarkson, who later recovered after being treated at Davis Memorial Hospital. “The officer gave me some forms to fill out and he (Wolford) was like, ‘You need to go to the hospital now.'”

“I never in my entire life smelled anything so bad,” she added. “It burns all the way through your nose to your brain. The taste of metal was in my mouth for days.”

Wolford said the teens’ find led him to discover two more mobile meth labs that had been discarded in the same ditch.

“It was like somebody was just driving through there and throwing their waste (from the meth cook) out the window as they went,” the trooper said.

Wolford reviewed what members of the public should do if they stumble across a similar-looking bottle – as well as the short- and long-term effects of exposure to methamphetamine or remnants from a meth cook.

“If it’s a pop bottle and there are solids in it, that should be a clue that it’s not pop, and (people) shouldn’t be touching it,” Wolford said. “If people see something they suspect is a meth lab, call local law enforcement.”

The Elkins detachment of the WVSP may be reached at 304-637-0200.

He indicated contact with an active meth lab or the aftermath of one can result in shortness of breath, cough, dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and contact burns. This can occur either from exposure to the acids used in the mixing process or from the main fire associated with the cook, he said.

“You’re also looking at irritation of the eyes, nose and skin as well as respiratory irritation,” Wolford said.

Repeated exposure to meth can produce problems with the central nervous system, but more research needs to be done about other long-term repercussions, he explained.

“We don’t know much about chronic exposure and they haven’t done a lot of tests on it, but animal/human toxicity studies on the individual chemicals used (to make meth) can cause cancer, liver and kidney issues, neurological issues and birth defects,” Wolford said. “Children and younger teenagers are more vulnerable to it because they’re smaller in stature and still developing their vital organs.”

Hence Chris Clarkson and Devan Collins’ concern, said Brandi Carbaugh, Collins’ mother.

“Little kids play at that pond all the time,” Carbaugh said to her son and his friend, referring to the area near where the pop bottle was found. “It’s a good thing you guys found it and not them.”

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com.