A common traffic violation-- failure to signal a turn -- led to an arrest last Saturday for methamphetamine possession. The incident shut down a side street near the Homer Post Office when in the process of the arrest an Alaska Wildlife Trooper discovered a suspected meth lab in a 26-year-old Homer man's 2000 Oldsmobile Alero sedan.
Troopers arrested Timothy K. Igou on one count of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Igou could face additional charges of manufacturing meth. He is being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility. Additional charges related to the alleged meth lab are pending.
The incident, which closed Waddell Way from about 2:45 p.m. until 10 p.m. Feb. 23, did not close the post office. The meth lab, of the "one pot" or "shake-and-bake" method, didn't take up much space in the car, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.
Meth labs, particularly the shake-and-bake kind, can be highly explosive and toxic.
The lab was cleaned up by a hazardous waste team working with a private contractor under a drug clean-up program administered by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Several people reported seeing workers in hazmat, or hazardous material, suits and respirators.
According to a criminal complaint, Wildlife Trooper David Chaffin stopped Igou about 2:45 p.m. when he saw him fail to signal a right-hand turn when going from Lake Street onto the Sterling Highway. Chaffin stopped Igou on Waddell Street, the trooper wrote. After he approached Igou, Chaffin said he saw the wooden handle grip of a handgun between Igou's legs and immediately ordered him out of the car. Chaffin did a pat-down search of Igou to make sure he didn't have any more weapons. Troopers later identified the handgun as a pellet gun.
During the search, Chaffin said he saw a pipe in Igou's right side jacket pocket. When asked, Igou admitted he used the pipe for smoking meth, Chaffin said. Igou consented to an additional search, and the trooper found a glass smoking pipe and a "dime" baggie of what looked to be crystal meth.
In the car, Chaffin saw in plain sight what appeared to be a meth lab, Peters said.
Troopers got a search warrant for Igou's car and investigators from the statewide unit of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation responded and confirmed the presence of what they said was a mobile meth lab. Troopers gathered evidence and disassembled the lab. The hazmat team then collected and safely disposed of the materials.
"That gives you an idea of how volatile these substances can be," Peters said of the necessity to have a hazmat team. "It's not good stuff."
According to the Alaska State Troopers 2011 Annual Drug Report on drug crimes, while meth lab busts have generally declined since 2006, the recently popularity of the one-pot meth lab method has caused troopers concern. Statewide, the number of meth labs investigated dropped slightly from 2010, with 11 labs in 2010 and eight in 2011.
The one-pot method combines ammonium nitrate or sulfate from fertilizer or cold packs, pseudoephedrine tablets, ether, water and a reactive metal into a container such as a 2-liter plastic soda bottle. The pressure and violent reaction of the reactive metal can cause the bottle to burst or rupture, exposing ingredients to air and oxygen and causing an explosive fire.
"As this method begins to gain in popularity within Alaska it will increase the danger to all citizens of Alaska from explosions, fires and exposure to dangerous chemicals," the drug report notes.
Peters said the suspected meth lab seized from Igou's car is still being evaluated and troopers don't know how much meth or other chemicals was in the lab. There was evidence the lab had been used recently before being seized.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.