By Margie Wuebker
Three Indiana men were apprehended early today after they ran afoul of the law during a clandestine visit to a Chattanooga-area business where anhydrous ammonia, an ingredient used in making methanphetamine, is stored.
Joshua Roush, 19, and Stewart Loshe, 26, both of Geneva, Ind., and Johnny Ray Morgan, 29, of Portland, Ind., remain in the Mercer County Jail awaiting 1 p.m. appearances in Celina Municipal Court.
Each faces charges of breaking and entering and illegal assembly or possession of chemicals used in the manufacture of illegal drugs, both fifth-degree felonies.
The trio reportedly drove onto Mercer Landmark property along Strable Road around 2:15 a.m. with no lights showing on their 1993 Chevrolet Blazer. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt when the occupants spotted a Mercer County Sheriff's cruiser parked in the shadows.
Deputy Mark Heinl had been staking out the facility as part of an ongoing investigation in the wake of suspected anhydrous ammonia thefts. He struck "paydirt" this time, according to Sheriff Jeff Grey. The men immediately drove from the scene and Heinl made a traffic stop minutes later. They were taken into custody without incident.
A subsequent search of the vehicle turned up a quantity of cold medicine as well as starter fluid. Along with anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer commonly used for agricultural purposes, the items are popular agents used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Grey confirmed today that deputies have been watching the location periodically in the wake of suspected thefts that have occurred in the past several months. Recently, footprints were found in the snow leading to the anhydrous tanks. One of the men apprehended this morning allegedly wore shoes with a similar pattern to that found earlier.
"Sometimes it is difficult to spot thefts because of the small amounts of anhydrous taken," he added. The substance is used to separate one component -- ephedrine -- from the cold medication.
The investigation is continuing as detectives were interviewing the subjects mid-morning at the jail.
If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine on each charge.
"Mark has been doing a bang-up job staying on top of anhydrous thefts and checking locations where such crimes have occurred," Grey said. "He has made it his mission. We all want to get the guys stealing anhydrous before they use it to make meth. Accomplishing that goal will keep a very nasty drug out of the hands of kids."
Heinl spotted suspicious activity at Mercer Landmark along Burkettsville-St. Henry Road near Philothea during the early morning hours of May 12 and stopped to investigate. One man was serving as a lookout while another worked at the anhydrous tanks. They ran from the scene and were apprehended later. The incident subsequently led to the discovery of a marijuana grow room and a methamphetamine lab in the St. Anthony area and the arrest of five people.
A week later Heinl was among 14 people transported to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater following a methamphetamine leak at a Mercer Landmark site near Burkettsville.
Heinl, who was on patrol in southern Mercer County, responded to the scene after a truck driver alerted authorities of a smoky fog coming from the property containing two large storage tanks and 24 smaller nurse tanks.
Heinl stopped another truck approaching the scene, located just over the line in Darke County, and warned him about leaving the area. The wind changed direction blowing the toxic chemical toward the men as well as responding firefighters and people residing in the area. The incident remains under investigation.