Crime & Courts

Police seize meth lab in home across from school

Around 6 a.m. Saturday, someone reported an odd smell in the 1200 block of South Emporia.

It led Wichita police to something at a home — across from Lincoln Elementary School — that would be unwelcome in any neighborhood.

Police said they discovered an active meth lab at the home, with toxic and volatile chemicals used to "cook" the highly addictive, illegal drug methamphetamine.

"The worst thing about it is ... they endangered everybody around this part of the neighborhood, (including) a lot of small kids," a neighbor said.

The neighbor, who asked that his name not be used, said he knew something was wrong Saturday morning when police and fire trucks arrived and blocked off the street.

An officer told the man's family to stay inside and said they could be evacuated because of a meth lab at a nearby home.

The neighbor said he had noticed "kind of a chemical smell" before — something like ammonia, something he didn't recognize — but thought it could be blowing in from an industrial business.

Since the beginning of the summer, the man said, he had seen a lot of people at the house, some staying for a few weeks at a time, carrying clothing bags.

At one point, he counted nine adults and two small children at the smallish home, in an old neighborhood of mostly frame houses sitting close together.

On Monday, police spokesman Gordon Bassham said that police found a 16-year-old at the home whom they consider a victim, partly because of his age. The teen was taken to a hospital to see whether he had been harmed by exposure to the lab chemicals, Bassham said.

According to a police report released Monday, officers responding to a report of an "odd smell" went to the house on South Emporia and arrested seven men and women, ages 21 to 58.

Police say the suspects could face tougher penalties because of the meth lab being close to a school.

During the operations Saturday, the neighbor said he saw the suspects being held in handcuffs in the school parking lot down the street.

He watched as hazardous-materials trucks arrived and as emergency workers donned protective suits. Eventually, the trucks took barrels away from the home. The street re-opened about 5 p.m., he said.

No one answered the door at the home Monday afternoon.

Police Capt. Ken Atnip said the case is a good reason to remind people: "We want the public to call if they smell" anything suspicious, something they can't identify.

Wichita meth lab production appears to be on the rise, with 15 police responses to labs so far this year, Atnip said.

"You don't want that kind of activity around a school," he said.

The school district appreciated the timing of Saturday's meth lab seizure — that it didn't occur on a school day, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman. Otherwise, the school would have had to take safety measures while the seizure was under way, and school traffic would have been affected, she said.