The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 14, 2013

Mobile meth lab catches fire in Geneva

Star Beacon

GENEVA — Two Geneva men face drug charges after a mobile methamphetamine laboratory caught fire as officers worked to “neutralize” the chemicals.

Geneva Police Officer Roger Wilt conducted a routine traffic stop at 3:33 a.m. Tuesday, and noticed the two male occupants, Jeffrey Switalski, 26, and Michael Gawrys, 33, looked nervous.

“They said they were taking the vehicle back to its owner,” Wilt said, “but the registration on the car showed the owner lives in a different location and there was a shorter route there than the one they were taking.”

Wilt requested a canine officer from the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department, police reports show.

“(Switalski) became very defensive about the canine sniff,” Wilt said, “and (Gawrys) said there was a hypodermic needle in his back pack.”

The canine officer alerted to the presence of drugs and the officers immediately began to search the vehicle, police reports show.

Wilt said Switalski was carrying two knives and had a plastic bag containing 20 white pseudoephedrine pills. Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

The search of the vehicle revealed three bags of white powder — a combined weight of 6 grams — which tested positive for methamphetamine; and a brown substance that tested positive for heroin, Wilt said.

The officers also found a plastic bottle — known as a “mobile meth lab.” The bottle contained some liquid with several black strips floating on top and small balls at the bottom.

Wilt said he became apprehensive about the meth lab, because he didn’t know what stage the chemical reaction had reached.

“Switalski indicated that the meth was finished and shouldn’t hurt anyone,” Wilt said.

The inventory piled up as officers and deputies continued to search the vehicle, police reports show, as they found coffee filters with meth residue, duct tape, plastic tubing, latex gloves, cotton balls, plastic baggies, three hypodermic needles, seven glue sticks, three sets of fingernail clippers, and several tools.

“All of these items are commonly seen or used in meth labs,” Wilt said.

The officers then began to deconstruct or “neutralize” the meth lab, Wilt said, but the unstable chemical mixture caught fire during the process.

Gawrys was issued a citation for misdemeanor possession of a drug abuse instrument and released, police reports show.

Switalski was arrested and is charged with two counts of felony drug abuse, possession of a drug abuse instrument, and possession of a controlled substance, court records show. Bond was set at $10,000, and a preliminary hearing will be held on Feb. 20.