By Margie Wuebker
Two people are in custody after a Mercer County Sheriff's deputy spotted a suspicious truck near anhydrous tanks at an area business early Wednesday morning. The subsequent investigation led to the discovery of a sophisticated marijuana grow room and a methamphetamine lab near St. Anthony.
The names of those arrested have not been released pending the filing of formal charges. Their cases could be among those being presented to a Mercer County grand jury meeting today in regular session.
Deputy Mark Heinl spotted suspicious activity at Mercer Landmark, 3911 Burkettsville-St. Henry Road, shortly after 4 a.m. while on routine patrol. One man, later identified as a 30-year-old Port Clinton man with ties to Fort Recovery, apparently served as lookout while the second man, a 35-year-old Fort Recovery-area resident worked at the tanks.
Both men ran from the scene after spotting the marked cruiser. Heinl alerted fellow deputies and a K-9 unit was brought to the scene to aid in the search. Coldwater Fire Department also responded to make sure no anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical used for agricultural purposes, had escaped during the attempted theft.
Deputies using night-vision goggles spotted the local man walking near the intersection of Siegrist-Jutte and Erastus-Durbin Road. He was transported to his 592 Cummins Road residence, south of St. Anthony, where authorities later found a hidden marijuana grow room in an outbuilding. If all the recently planted seedlings had survived the growing phase, authorities estimate the potential street value at $100,000 to $150,000. They also located propane tanks containing anhydrous ammonia, one of the ingredients needed in the production of methamphetamine.
A visitor at that location -- reportedly an Indiana man -- was turned over to the Darke County Sheriff's Office on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in a driving under the influence case.
"We had received calls regarding the Cummins Road address," Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey told The Daily Standard. "However, we needed another piece to the puzzle and the attempted theft of anhydrous proved to be that piece."
The other suspect was later found walking along Ohio 49. He offered no resistance when taken into custody.
Investigators obtained additional information that led them to 1507 Pine Road, north of St. Anthony. Armed with a search warrant, they discovered a methamphetamine lab that Grey described as "up and running." Drug Enforcement Agency officials were summoned from Toledo and a hazardous material unit traveled from Columbus to oversee cleanup operations in an outbuilding on the property.
"Chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine are volatile and highly explosive," the sheriff said. "We simply do not have the equipment needed to collect and handle that stuff."
Timothy Sturgis, 42, who formerly resided at the Pine Road address, is currently serving a three-year prison term for possessing methamphetamine. Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham also handed down a concurrent 12-month sentence for carrying a concealed weapon at the April 29 proceeding.
Authorities also seized several weapons during the course of the Wednesday search, including some with considerably more firepower than law enforcement authorities have at their disposal.
The lab is the second to be located here in Mercer County. The first was found Nov. 6 at a Wabash Road residence as deputies served an arrest warrant out of Randolph County, Ind.
No one has been charged as yet in conjunction with the Pine Road discovery, although the sheriff noted valuable information received during the investigation will lead to additional arrests in the future.
"We have the same drug activity here as in the big cities," Grey said. "People come here to secluded areas to cook meth and then take it elsewhere."