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4 charged in meth lab near school

Three Lincoln County residents and their out-of-town friend werearrested early Wednesday morning in what has become an increasinglyrare raid for local law enforcement – a meth lab bust.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said four individuals -including a mother and daughter – were taken into custody by hisdeputies and members of the Southwest Mississippi NarcoticsEnforcement Unit around 1 a.m. Wednesday at a residence at 986 WestLincoln Drive, a small rental home attached to the backside of WestLincoln Grocery.

All four face multiple felonies with enhanced charges forpossessing and preparing to manufacture crystal methamphetaminewith small children present in the home, and in close proximity toa school, in this case West Lincoln Attendance Center.

“They got information (Tuesday) about a possible meth lab …and based on that information they ran a search warrant on thatpart of the property and discovered the precursors and items usedto make methamphetamine,” Rushing said.

Arrested in connection with the lab were Ashley Smith, 21, of986 West Lincoln Drive; her mother, Kelly Smith, 39, of 986 WestLincoln Drive; Christopher Smith, 26, of 3035 Highway 583Southeast, Ruth; and Todd M. Rodriquez, 30, of 18002 Primes Road,Kentwood, La.

All four face felony charges of possession of a controlledsubstance, manufacture of a controlled substance, possession ofprecursor chemicals and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.The maximum penalty on the charges will increase due to thepresence of three small children – whom Rushing said were left inthe custody of other family members – and the proximity to WestLincoln Attendance Center, which is within the enhancement code’s1,500-foot limit.

Rushing said the meth lab was not yet operational and posed nodanger to West Lincoln students. Still, crystal methamphetamine andits composing chemicals are hazardous materials, requiring specialHAZMAT-trained officers to remove and dispose of them.

Crystal methamphetamine is still present in Lincoln County, butlabs are becoming more and more rare since the reclassification ofmeth’s active ingredient – pseudo ephedrine – as aprescription-only drug earlier this year, Rushing said.

“We still see meth, but the last few we’ve dealt with have beenbrought into the county instead of manufactured here,” he said.”Labs are on the decrease in our area. Not saying it won’t pickback up – there’s always people out there trying to find adifferent way.”

Pete Wright, who owns West Lincoln Grocery along with his son,Lee, was shocked to find out his tenants were among those allegedlycooking the drug locally.

“You never know what people do behind closed doors,” he said. “Isure hate it, but I’m glad they caught them. They sure didn’t needall them little young’uns living in that house around it.”

Wright didn’t know the Smiths well, but he estimated thechildren removed from the home were 10, 2 and 6 months old.

“I never figured anybody would do anything to hurt their ownyoung’uns, let alone those across the street,” Wright said. “I justdon’t understand it.”

West Lincoln Attendance Center Principal Jason Case was just assurprised to hear about the bust. He was relieved to know the methlab was not yet functional, especially considering the number ofhis students and faculty who shop daily at West LincolnGrocery.

“It sure could have been scary,” Case said. “I appreciate thesheriff’s department for catching it when they did.”