Historic City News reporters were alerted by St. Augustine Police Public Information Officer Mark Samson yesterday that the commotion on South Ponce de Leon Boulevard at the height of rush hour traffic was not a training exercise.
Emergency vehicles and personnel from city and county agencies encircled the triangle along US-1 at West Avenue; cordoned off in the familiar yellow crime scene tape and secured by heavily armed special tactical officers surrounding the perimeter.
The normally quiet side street that has been used by several people as a used car lot, because of its parallel frontage along the highway just north of SR-207, was anything but quite around 5:00 p.m. Thursday evening.
Police detectives received a tip that the small house next to the auto lot was being used to manufacture methamphetamine — a relatively simple process that illegally produces the controlled substance along with toxic by-products that are highly combustible.
Corporal Jerry Whitehead was tasked with “sitting” on the house and watching for suspected drug activity.
A 35 year-old St. Augustine man, identified as Tyler Jared Cooper, who gave 63 West Street as his place of residence, was observed carrying what officers felt were materials for operating a mobile meth lab. Cooper walked out of the house and placed the items in the rear compartment of a Ford Explorer.
Whitehead pulled in front of the vehicle to stop it from leaving the area. The driver was handcuffed and detained. Three others were ordered out of the SUV, they were also detained pending further investigation.
“As a precautionary measure, the car lot, a next door neighbor and Dental Concepts were all ordered to evacuate; then a perimeter was established,” Samson told Historic City News.
The St. Johns County Fire HazMat team responded; as did the St. Johns County Sheriff’s team that handles meth labs. Historic City News spoke with Sheriff’s spokesperson Chuck Mulligan, who reported that the State of Florida no longer provides local agencies with the public safety support required to neutralize the hazardous materials found in active methamphetamine manufacture.
Mulligan said that he believes that it is likely because of the one-time usability of everything associated with decontamination — including very expensive protective suits for first responders and others who might be exposed to the potentially toxic chemicals.
“The Sheriff was asked to fill that need in this case,” Mulligan said. With the growing incidence of meth lab discoveries around the county, at least the fourth time within the City of St. Augustine this year, Mulligan observed that this will have a significant, detrimental impact on the agency’s budget. “Public safety is the primary goal in these very dangerous situations,” Mulligan said — without saying how much longer the agency could afford to provide that level of support.
Cooper is in custody at the St. Johns County Detention Facility, without bond, charged with second-degree felony manufacturing of a controlled substance. He will have his first appearance before a judge this morning and bond hearing.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer