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Explosion, fire in Waynesboro caused by in-home meth lab, police chief says

Two people taken into custody

July 16, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • The first firefighters on the scene of a house fire noticed windows were blown out from the two-story brick building at 153 W. Main St.
By Jennifer Fitch, Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Two people are facing criminal charges for allegedly operating an in-home, methamphetamine-manufacturing lab that caused an explosion in downtown Waynesboro Monday night.

Logan Tyler Buchanan and Josie Lee McCormick were taken into police custody after the explosion at 153 W. Main St., a two-story brick building at the intersection of West Main and Grant streets.

Buchanan, 30, of 4576 Lemar Road, Lemasters, Pa., and McCormick, 33, of 153 W. Main St., Apt. 1, Waynesboro, were charged with possession of precursors with the intent to manufacture methamphetamines, operation of a methamphetamine laboratory, and causing or risking a catastrophe.

“A search of the residence resulted in the discovery of chemicals and precursors used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamines,” Waynesboro Police Chief James Sourbier wrote in an email.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be swallowed, snorted, injected or smoked, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.

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Buchanan and McCormick were incarcerated at the Franklin County (Pa.) Jail on $750,000 bail each in addition to state detainers, jail officials said. The pair identify themselves as an engaged couple on Facebook.

Pennsylvania State Police’s clandestine lab unit helped investigate what happened at the building before police and firefighters were alerted to a house fire. An affidavit of probable cause filed in the case said people were jumping out of the building’s windows when the fire broke out.

“Upon arrival, (police) were notified that there might still be someone inside of the residence,” the affidavit said.

Two officers entered the home and were not able to locate anyone before being forced out by smoke, according to the affidavit filed in Magisterial District Judge Kelly Rock’s office.

Waynesboro Fire Chief Dave Martin said that shortly after 8 p.m. a motorist yelled to firefighters at the South Potomac Street fire hall that a house was on fire on the town’s main thoroughfare. The affidavit said someone also notified a police officer.

A Waynesboro police officer was treated for smoke inhalation, and two occupants of the house were treated for minor injuries, Sourbier said. All were released from the hospital, he said.

The first firefighters on the scene noticed windows were blown out, which can be indicative of an explosion, Martin said.

Officer Bryan P. Chappell Jr. said in the affidavit that he saw items consistent with the manufacturing of methamphetamine as soon as he walked into the home. Those included lithium batteries that had been cut open, plastic tubing, 2-liter plastic bottles, boxes of ephedrine, brake-fluid containers and hydrogen peroxide containers.

A search of the premises resulted in items being taken into evidence, including instructions for producing methamphetamine, the affidavit said.

Although the fire itself was contained in just a few minutes, fire and police officials initially blocked off the area and dispersed crowds, because they did not know what caused the fire. A section of West Main Street continued to be closed Tuesday morning before reopening.

‘It’s coming here...’

David Donohue, director of the Franklin County Department of Emergency Services,  has three decades of experience writing hazardous materials protocols and responding to hazmat scenes for his various employers, including the U.S. Capitol Police and U.S. Coast Guard.

Chemical labs like the alleged operation in Waynesboro are more common in the West, Donohue said.

“It’s coming here and becoming an issue,” he said.

Waynesboro police discovered ingredients to make methamphetamine in a room of the former Best Western, 239 W. Main St., in 2005.

Pennsylvania State Police handled a similar incident at Budget Inn, 2347 Molly Pitcher Highway in Chambersburg, Pa., last year.

Donohue said one of his friends who works in Iowa encounters 20 to 30 labs a month.

In Western states, officers on hazmat teams responding to the labs are being rotated off the teams after five to seven years.

“There are some long-term health effects to it,” Donohue said.

“Hazmat personnel said the air quality was good, and there was no additional risk,” Sourbier said in response to a question about the explosion’s effects in Waynesboro.

Donohue said chemicals used to make methamphetamine can permeate drywall and carpet. He said if he lived in a building adjacent to 153 W. Main St., he would not be concerned about exposure, but he would be concerned if he lived in an apartment in the building.

“What I’d be concerned with is how they’re dumping their chemicals,” he said.

Heating the volatile chemicals to make methamphetamine takes away their stabilizers, Donohue said.

Buchanan has been charged with driving under the influence several times, and Greencastle police charged him with manufacturing, delivery or possession of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2003, according to online court records.

McCormick also has been the defendant in similar cases, plus one for retail theft and one for aggravated assault, the records show.

Departments responding to the fire included Waynesboro and Mont Alto from Pennsylvania, and Leitersburg from Maryland. Also assisting were the Franklin County Drug Task Force and Waynesboro fire police and ambulance crews.

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