PARKERSBURG - Officials with the Parkersburg Violent Crime Narcotics Task Force remain concerned with narcotics operations in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
On Dec. 11, a duffel bag containing items used in the production of methamphetamine was found in the 1100 block of 19th Street, steps away from McKinley Elementary School in Parkersburg. The owner of the duffel bag was never discovered, police said.
Shawn Graham, Chief Deputy for the Wood County Sheriff's Office, said the production of meth is a huge problem in the area. The main factor concerning officials is the easy production method.
"(Offenders) are using the new 'shake and bake' method," he said. "(Meth) is a highly addictive drug people get hooked on and stay on it while their life runs down hill."
Graham said the offenders don't realize how hazardous the chemical can be to those around them.
"The task force, as well as road patrol, are doing a great job at identifying the problem," he said.
On Nov. 29, a 30-year-old Parkersburg man was arrested on a drug charge after being stopped by police for speeding, according to reports. The man, James Rodney Walters, 907A Pike St., was taken into custody and charged with a felony possession of heroin with intent to deliver. He was arraigned in Wood County Magistrate Court and released on $35,000 bond.
Walters, who was on probation, was a co-defendant along with Jaymason Robinson in the deaths of Lester Allen Wratchford and Eric Lee Sprouse in September 2009.
According to court records, Walters pleaded guilty to a third-degree arson charge in April 2010 and was sentenced in September 2010 to one to three years in prison with credit for 238 days served. The sentence was suspended for four years probation, according to task force records.
Earlier in November, a Parkersburg man was arrested in Vienna and accused of operating a clandestine methamphetamine lab at 700 21st St., Apt. B, according to police records. The 33-year-old James S. Smearman was arrested after officers entered the apartment immediately smelling a strong chemical odor associated with meth. Smearman was taken into custody and the remaining occupants of the residence, including a 2-year-old child, were evacuated.
Adjoining apartment residences were also told to evacuate; the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department assisted.
Penalties for the drug-related convictions can result in two to 10 years imprisonment for operating a clandestine laboratory and one to five years for exposing a child to meth production, court records showed.
The drug investigations come at a time when drug use and the discovery of drug paraphernalia has been on the rise in the valley.
Parkersburg Police Sgt. Greg Collins said locations where meth is "cooked" can cause ignitable, corrosive, reactive and toxic chemicals.
"Sadly, we often find children in these homes where meth is being cooked," he said. "At the location of these sites, there is a tremendous amount of danger."
Collins said police have also been struggling with bath salts. The drug is probably the most dangerous drug law enforcement officials have to deal with, more so than meth, he added.
"They are always looking for us, or see us when we aren't really there," said Collins. "This is one scary drug."
He said task force agents report heroin and meth are big problems in the valley, but prescription pills are also a problem and generally don't get as much attention.
"That problem is an absolute epidemic here," Collins said of prescription drugs. "The Parkersburg Police Department's Detective Bureau is now trying to help the task force attack that problem."
"We are all working to eradicate the problem," Graham said of the area's drug abuse. "It's a very bad deal all the way around."
According to data collected by Crime and U.S. Law Enforcement, of the 1.5 million arrests for drug law violations in 2011, 81.8 percent were for possession of a controlled substance. Only 18.2 percent were for the sale or manufacturing of a drug, across the nation.
Since the start of the new year, agents were called Jan. 3 to the 1000 block of Williams Street for what began as a domestic dispute. Upon further investigation, an alleged meth lab was discovered. Jack Lee Poland was arrested and charged with felony possession of a precursor to manufacture meth. He was arraigned in magistrate court and released on a $5,000 bond.
Collins said Parkersburg officers on the scene did a "good job identifying the likely existence of a meth lab, in large part because of the Clandestine Laboratory training provided in May of 2011 by the West Virginia Construction Craft Laborers' Training Center in Mineral Wells."
The Parkersburg Police Department sent 14 officers to the school, which focused on identification and investigation of a meth lab, as well as mitigation of the hazardous materials involved in the cooking process, he said.
The Parkersburg Violent Crime and Narcotics Task Force is comprised of investigators from the Parkersburg Police Department, the Wood County Sheriff's Office, the Vienna Police Department and the West Virginia State Police.