LOCK HAVEN - Several people are in custody after an alleged lab producing the highly addictive drug methamphetamine was uncovered Tuesday night on the fourth floor of a downtown apartment building, police said.
Police said the bust originated at the Fallon Hotel along Water Street, where suspected methamphetamine was found, leading investigators across the Water Street parking lot to 121 1/2 E. Main St., a four-story apartment building housing Fitness Unlimited on the first floor.
Four separate search warrants led police to three prime suspects and the alleged meth lab.
William Confer, center, a suspect in the drug lab probe, is taken in for questioning Tuesday night at City Hall by City Officer Jeff Fritts, left, and Police Chief Skip Hocker.
As officers decended on the two buildings starting about 7 p.m., police closed most of the downtown and forced the evacuation of about two dozen people from the Main Street building, which houses seven apartments.
Meth labs are dangerous, with a high chance of fire or explosions. Signs of a methamphetamine lab include large quantities of common but potentially toxic household products, including alcohol, ether, benzene, paint thinner, freon, chloroform, ammonia, propane, lye, drain cleaner, battery acid and cold tablets.
Used as directed, the household products are generally safe. But in certain combinations, officials say, they can ignite, causing explosions, fires and the release of toxic fumes.
Lock Haven Police Detective Sgt. Charles Shoemaker said investigators executing a search warrant in an unidentified apartment - accessed off Fallon Alley - at about 8 p.m. found a suspected meth lab there.
"We made entry into the apartment, established evidence there was methamphetamine in there that had possibly just been cooked and we evacuated the building," he said, estimating about 25 people were evacuated from the nine apartments in the building.
Shoemaker said "a number of people" were taken into custody and questioned about the suspected meth lab.
Police confirmed three people were at the Clinton County Prison late Wednesday morning, awaiting to be arraigned. The three were: William Henry Confer, 40, of 121 1/2 E. Main St., Apt. 403, charged with one count of manufacturing methamphetamine, a felony, and related drug charges and one count of risking a catastrophe; Billie Jo Laubach, 37, of 121 1/2 E. Main St., Apt. 403, Lock Haven, charged with one count of manufacturing methamphetamine and related drug charges, and one count of risking a catastrophe; and Meloney Marie Confer, 39, of 121 1/2 E. Main St., Apt. 403, Lock Haven, charged with one count of manufacturing methamphetamine and related drug charges and one count of risking a catastrophe.
One person, who reportedly lived in the apartment in question, was nabbed after he walked around the perimeter of the area cordoned off by yellow police tape and tried to walk away from the scene toward Triangle Park.
Several city police officers ran after the person - accompanied by about a dozen of the nearly 50 people who were watching the investigation - before he was captured by Police Chief Skip Hocker in the parking lot behind the Jersey Shore State Bank.
He quickly was taken into the city police barracks for questioning.
Shoemaker said the search warrant was issued after an ongoing investigation allegedly showed there had been drug activity in the apartment.
"Today, we substantiated that information," he said last night. "Some methamphetamine had been taken from the apartment to another location."
Chemicals were seized by a police forensics team, but police had no details as far as bulk material seized.
After that had been substantiated, and the search warrant was ordered, city police coordinated with the city fire department and the county's Haz-Mat Department shortly after 7 p.m. to cordon off the area and secure the scene, he said.
Residents and occupants remained outside for hours before being allowed to return about 2:20 a.m.
Police accessed the building primarily at its rear at Jordans Alley.
After evidence of the suspected meth lab officers was found, police called members of the East Task Force of the Office of Attorney General out of State College to conduct an investigation.
"They are from throughout the state. It's a coordinated effort between the Attorney General's Office and the state police," Shoemaker said.
The detective explained the investigation from the task force included a chemical analysis of the material to determine whether it was methamphetamine.
Evacuated tenants were not allowed back in until the scene was deemed safe early Wednesday, Shoemaker said. The American Red Cross assisted with those temporarily displaced.
The apartment building is owned by Dave Mayes, police said. Mayes was on the scene Tuesday night but declined comment.