Saving Punky’s home

Illegal drug manufacturing doesn’t mean home is a lost cause

By Kevin Spradlin

There’s an awful lot of community buy-in to the home located at a Crawford Road in Ellerbe. The single-story, 1,360 square foot rancher is different become it took donations and a small army of more than 50 volunteers through the Richmond County Home Builders Association to construct the home.

Kevin Spradlin | A Crawford Road home built by Richmond County Home Builders Association volunteers for the late Jerry "Punky" Martin Jr. can likely be salvaged, an industry expert says, despite being used as a place to manufacture meth.

Kevin Spradlin |
A Crawford Road home built by Richmond County Home Builders Association volunteers for the late Jerry “Punky” Martin Jr. can likely be salvaged, an industry expert says, despite being used as a place to manufacture meth.

The home was built for Jerry “Punky” Martin Jr., who had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and later was diagnosed with cancer. Martin died on May 2, 2013, at the age of 41 — far outlasting doctors’ expectations. Martin’s mother died in February, and the home has since been lived in by, among others, Punky’s brother, John Monroe Wilson.

The house was built with Martin in mind. It was a fully handicapped-accessible home with a new washer, dryer, bed and sofa set. That happened in 2004. It was the feel-good story of the year across the Sandhills region.

On Wednesday, Wilson was one of five people arrested as federal and Richmond County law enforcement officials gathered at the home to serve a federal sealed indictment, since opened, for the manufacturing and distribution of meth. The illicit activity had been ongoing since sometime in 2013, according to charging documents. Much or all of the activity has been based from the Crawford Road home. A member of the Martin family declined to speak to the Post for this article.

When The Pee Dee Post reported the arrests, readers expressed concern about the fate of the home. Could it be saved?

The short answer, said Gene Hintze, is yes. Hintze is a certified bio-recovery technician and owner of Bio-Incident Solutions. The Greensboro-based company handles all types of clean-ups, including murder, suicide and meth labs.

“They’re almost always salvageable,” Hintze said in a phone interview Thursday.

Hintze said it’s important to take into consideration the value of the home.

“Unless it’s a single-wide (trailer) out in a field … the value of the home generally exceeds the cost of the meth cleanup,” he said. “It’s almost always worth doing the cleanup.”

According to online property records, the home has a tax value of $95,949. Hintze said cleanup costs can “run up to $50,000 or more” and noted that, in his experience, it’s “never less than $5,000,” which would be the average cost for a space about the size of a hotel room.

A home in western North Carolina, at 1,700 square feet, is estimated to cost $11,500 to remediate, Hintze said. That includes labor- and time-intensive testing, cleaning and re-testing.

The process

Hintze said his company sticks close to state regulations when contracted to remediate a former meth lab. And it is nothing else if not a tedious, extensive process.

The effort is not that of a single entity. Hintze said clean-up is coordinated with the local health department, local law enforcement and the State Bureau of Investigation. Hintze said SBI investigators generally “pull out the gross (read: obvious) contaminants — whatever the meth was cooked in, chemicals. By the time they’re done, it’s pretty much the structure and whatever furnishings are still in the house.”

If there is any doubt whether or not the home was used to manufacture meth, the first step is testing. In the Crawford Road home, that step could likely be skipped. But the test, Hintze said,

In testing, however, Bio-Incident Solutions uses a 10-centimeter by 10-centimeter grid. If you take a grain of salt, Hintze said, and chop it up into 64,800 equally seized pieces, a single piece “would generate a positive result.”

Any positive result must be remediated to meet state guidelines. That’s where the real work comes in. Someone like Hintze shows up and begins to formulate a remediation plan. State guidelines require the structure be ventilated for two days. This first step involves opening up the windows and using electric fans to push out as much as as possible.

Afterwards, certified bio-recovery technicians like Hintze don personal protective equipment (PPE) — consisting of full HAZMAT suits, face respirators, nitro gloves, steel-toed, steel-shanked mid-calf length boots — enter the property.

Technicians clean and scrub.

“Everything’s gotta go,” Hintze said. “Anything that is fabric-based (such as) kids’ Teddy bears, carpet (and the) sofa. Essentially, you take everything in the home and throw it away.”

If there are detectable levels of meth residue in the attic space, “all the insulation has to go,” Hintze said.

Likewise, duct work for the furnace or air-conditioning that isn’t solid has “all gotta go.” If it is solid, then it must be cleaned.

Each section of the home is triple-washed and clean-water rinsed — “every square inch of the house — floors, ceilings, walls, kitchen cupboards inside and out,” Hintze said.

Any exposed wood is turn out and thrown away. Plumbing must be thoroughly scoured. Hintze said oftentimes, those who make meth pour the chemicals down the kitchen sink or into the commode.

“Once you’re done with all of that, you have to open up a structure and air it out again for another three days,” Hintze said.

Then technicians test again. If the result is “below the prescribed level, then you’re fine. If it’s above the prescribed level, then you have to go through that whole cleaning protocol again. You continue to do that until the structure comes back clean based on laboratory tests.”

 An ongoing problem

Manufacturing methamphetamines is a problem that won’t leave North Carolina anytime soon. It’s cheap to make and has a high profit margin.

“Meth production has evolved over the last 10 years,” Hintze said. “It used to be very, very nasty, highly chemical-intensive. Now, most of it is ‘shake and bake.’ It doesn’t contaminate as much. It’s easier to do, it’s easier to hide. A couple of Pepsi bottles and some tubing and you’re in business.”

Accoriding to the Division of Epidemiology, under the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Hintze is right.

“Illegal drug manufacturing is changing dynamically and there are no absolute guarantees that chronic health effects will be completely eliminated by decontaminating these properties,” one report indicates.

According to the state guidelines:

“Some chemicals used in methamphetamine production present a danger of injury from fire or explosion. In addition, at the lab site there are possible risks of exposure to infectious agents (e.g., HIV, hepatitis B) in the event of skin puncture by drug paraphernalia. Risk of injury or toxicity from chemical exposure depends on the chemicals’ toxic properties, quantity, form, concentration, and duration and route of exposure.

Systemic absorption of chemicals or injury may occur by one or more of the following routes of exposure:

* inhalation
* skin exposure;
* ingestion (swallowing; and
* injection.”

Source: NC Department of Justice

Source: NC Department of Justice

The problem is on the rise. According to a state report, “in 2001, there were 34 methamphetamine labs discovered in North Carolina; in 2004, there were 322 labs discovered.”

In 2013, there were 561 meth labs busted across North Carolina — including 30 in Anson County, 15 in Stanly County, 13 in Richmond County and one each in Montgomery, Scotland and Moore counties.


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