The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 19, 2013

Geneva canine officer finds suspect after chimney fire brings meth investigation

Star Beacon

GENEVA — Geneva firefighters found the makings of a methamphetamine laboratory when they arrived at the house at 562 E. Main St. on Friday to extinguish a chimney fire.

The discovery led to a warrant arrest, a canine officer bite, and an open investigation, Geneva Police Chief Dan Dudik said.

The fire was not caused by the production of meth, Dudik said, but firefighters found “items in the general area of the house that were conducive to the production of meth,” he said.

“The firefighters arrived at the scene and found the items and became suspicious,” Dudik said. “They called us immediately.”

Officer Chris Cahill said items used to make meth were found in and around the house and in the fireplace.

“We aren’t sure if the burning of those items caused the chimney fire, or if they were burning something else and decided to try to get rid of the (meth) items before the fire department got there,” he said.

Cahill said there were six people in the house at the time of the fire. Additional charges against Hardin and several other suspects are pending the investigation, he said.

Dudik said the house wasn’t damaged by the fire, which was contained to the fireplace.

“All burning was contained to the fireplace,” he said. “When I was in there it did not even smell of smoke, so the fire was in the chimney.”

Cahill, who is trained to investigate meth laboratories, was called to the scene as the owner of the house consented to a police search, Dudik said.

Suspect Michael J. Hardin, of Geneva was hiding on the second floor of the house. Hardin was wanted on a warrant for failure to appear at a court hearing in November for meth-related offenses, refused to surrender to police, so the city’s canine officer was deployed, Dudik said.

“The canine was used to apprehend Hardin,” Dudik said, “because he was hiding. (Hardin) was repeatedly given warnings to come out, but he tried to wait it out.”

Dudik said officers conducted a “systematic search” through the house for Hardin, but it was Zip the dog who found him.

Zip took three out of crime, and Hardin, Cahill said.

Northwest Ambulance District paramedics tended to Hardin’s bite injury, Cahill said.

Hardin was arraigned Monday for resisting arrest. He faces trial on March 25, Western County Court records show.

Dudik said Hardin was the only person arrested at the scene, though the investigation is ongoing and charges may be brought against other people implicated in the incident.

“Our investigation is ongoing,” he said.

Hardin has a lengthy criminal history, court records show. In 2012 and 2013 alone, he has been charged with fleeing and eluding, possession of meth, possession of a drug abuse instrument, possession of drug paraphernalia, domestic violence, resisting arrest, failure to yield at a right of way, two counts of driving under suspension, driving without a valid license, and reckless operation of a vehicle, court records show.