University City

Meth bust raises concerns

No one in the neighborhood around the Belmar Place subdivision seemed to pay much attention to the tidy, unassuming ranch home on Nevin Road or the young couple who lived there.

The beige, vinyl-sided house with dark-green shutters and neatly trimmed shrubs blended right into the neighborhood of modest, one-story homes.

Now it sits empty, a sign taped to the front door deeming it hazardous and unlivable after police discovered a meth lab inside on April 21.

The bust took neighbors by surprise, stunned that two people in the home were charged with cooking the highly addictive and flammable concoction.

"This used to be a real quiet neighborhood," said Fred Johnson, a longtime resident who lives a few houses down from the home where the lab was discovered. "I never thought something like that would happen here."

But methamphetamine labs can happen anywhere and they do, thanks to the ease and low cost of setting one up. Ingredients used to make the drug can be found at any local pharmacy and hardware store.

Two people in the house were arrested. Richard Lee Jones, 39, was charged with several drug-related charges, including possession with intent to sell methamphetamine, manufacturing meth and possession of precursor chemicals. Farrow Harris, 34, was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, maintaining a dwelling to sell a controlled substance and possession with intent to manufacture.

Law enforcement groups hope a bill currently under consideration in the N.C. legislature would help control the spread of meth labs.

The bill, House Bill 12, would require prescriptions for the popular cold and allergy medicines that can also be used to make methamphetamines. The medicines contain pseudoephedrine.

Opponents say the bill would create problems for consumers, but the State Bureau of Investigation and some county sheriffs have said that making pseudoephedrine a controlled substance will curb the rise of meth abuse. The bill would affect cold medicines such as Sudafed, Claritin-D and Robitussin Cough & Cold.

The arrests shocked many of those who live and work in the Nevin community, a neighborhood with a day-care center, several churches and plenty of swing sets and trampolines in the backyards.

"That's disturbing," said Carlesta Blake, who works at Charlotte Day Care down the road from the house. "Especially when you have children."

RoShaun Adams, director at Nevins Inc., a facility for people with developmental disabilities, worried about what could have happened if the volatile ingredients used to cook meth had exploded. "There's gas lines all throughout here, and they just redid the gas lines here," he said. "We have such a large population on campus."

Some people in the neighborhood say they keep to themselves and don't know many of their neighbors. High fences, some with barbed wire added on top, dot the street. Nearly every yard has either a home security or no trespassing sign jabbed in the lawn.

Jack Auman, who has lived on Nevin Road since 1969, said he knows hardly anyone on the street, and it worries him. "You don't know what they're doing in their houses," he said.

Johnson said it's hard to know neighbors when the turnover is so frequent, especially in houses with renters.

But sidewalks installed a few years back on the road have helped some neighbors become acquainted. "You actually see a lot of people walking, and walking their dogs," said Johnson, who remembers when the road was heavy with car traffic but not foot traffic. "Kids ride their bikes up and down the street all the time," he said now that the sidewalks are in.

Johnson's two children and six grandchildren can be counted among those who live within walking distance of the former meth house.

"I never thought something like that would have gone on," he said. "I don't know what kind of chemicals they use, but it has to be pretty harsh to make a house unlivable."

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