Meth lab explosion ignites home on Barron St.

By Megan Kennedy

March 17, 2014

A meth lab explosion caused a fire that left the back end of 212 North Barron Street charred and exposed on Friday, March 14.

The initial call of a “fully engulfed structure” came in at 5:48 a.m. over the scanner, sending crews from Eaton, West Alexandria, and Gasper Township to the apartment building. Crews were able to extinguish the flames by 6:10 a.m.

The fire erupted due to a meth lab explosion, believed to be started by Michelle Grubbs, 33. Grubbs, currently in Preble County Jail, was detained by police at her fathers residents, after police were able to trace a partially-burnt purse to Grubbs, as well as other leads. Grubbs is currently being charged with aggravated arson as well as drug-related crimes.

“Within a couple of hours, we figured out exactly where they bought it, and had the logs from both Meijer and Kroger in Moraine/West Carrolton area there. It showed all these people; the times they bought it, they had where [the suspects] used their State ID to buy it, so we figured that out pretty quick,” said Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew.

“Within the house itself, or apartment rather, most of it was burnt, we found nine propane cylinders. Some tubing, like aquarium tubing, which is what we typically find in a meth lab. And we found like pieces of her purse that was kind of burned up in the fire,” said DePew.

The day of the fire, a total of five suspects purchased pseudoephedrine in Montgomery County, as well as other meth-making related materials. Once the purchase was complete, the suspects are believed to have given the materials to Grubbs to complete the “cooking” of meth. With the help of pseudoephedrine logs, police are able to trace purchases to individuals who buy over 10 grams within a 30-day period.

DePew believes that many people who buy meth-making materials in another county do so to attempt to cover their tracks. Pseudoephedrine enforcement by police became imperative in 2009.

“It’s been amazing to watch the numbers go down, as far as the number of people we charge with pseudoephedrine … as soon as the State made it illegal to buy pseudoephedrine, or restricted how much you can buy, we started enforcing that. As soon as we started charging people like crazy for the over-purchase of pseudoephedrine, it always seems after 2009 that number gets lower and lower because people are going out of county and out of state to buy it,” said DePew.

“Which we can still determine where they buy it, for charging purposes, typically we’re looking for a charge at least in Preble County or Eaton to tie it back to us.”

DePew explains Grubbs and the other suspects were able to buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine, by utilizing the fact they were larger in number. Each individual is able to purchase a maximum of two boxes of pseudoephedrine, allowing five total suspects to obtain ten boxes.

“Typically people around here we see making meth are generally making it for themselves or for maybe a buddy or two, they’re making it to sell it to buy heroin,” said DePew.

The danger in the manufacturing of meth comes from the substances being used in the process. While individually the chemicals are fine, however, mixed together can create a dangerous cocktail of chemicals.

“They’re dealing with all these household chemicals, that used for their intended purpose, the drain cleaner for example, you pour that down the drain and you’re going to be fine, but you mix that with these other chemicals, and expose it to heat and fire, you’ve got a very dangerous hazard there. You know, things that could explode, could melt, most likely there’s some type of chemical reaction that occurred that ignited, or the propane ignited the chemicals, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong, and quite frankly, the person we arrested, Michelle, is very lucky she didn’t get hurt,” said DePew.

The initial explosion may not always be strictly composed of heat or fire, but the chemicals themselves. These are equally dangerous to exposed skin surfaces, and can be extremely dangerous if not deadly.

Chief DePew has become increasingly aware of smaller-sized meth “cooks” in the area, which are small enough to fit in a normal-sized duffel bag.

Grubbs is no stranger to the meth world. Previously a spokeswoman for substance abuse, was formerly seen as a success story. Clean and sober for roughly four years, Grubbs subsequently fell back in the vicious cycle of drug abuse.

“As we deal with these people, we’ve learned the meth problem we’ve been dealing with for 10 to 12 years now… we’re learning that enforcement is great, but we can only do so much … the more active role we can play on the treatment side, the better success we have of getting drugs out of our community,” said DePew.

Common ingredients of methamphetamine are lithium battery chemicals, drain cleaner, ether, brake fluid, acetone, and others.

The building, a rental property, housed an individual which was in acquaintance with Grubbs, allowing her to enter the rented unit.

The rental property “will be evaluated by an insurance adjuster to determine cost of repair v.s. cost of demolition. A large part of the building did not have structural damage,” said Eaton Fire Chief Jack Royer.

“It is in the hands of the owner and the insurance company. The insurance agency to the south sustained a small amount of water damage and lost siding. The accounting office to the north sustained flame damage to the roof and over-hang; also a small window and some fire damage to a side door.”

Grubbs has not given a statement to police.