by Myndi Brogdon and Jerry Thebado
Roundup Staff Reporters
A tip led undercover agents from the Gila County Narcotics, Drug, Gang and Violent Crime Unit to an alleged methamphetamine lab in operation at room 3 of the Rim Cafe and Motel in Pine Sunday night.
After checking into the motel around midnight Friday evening, Carol Jane Lanning, 41, of Mesa, and Scott Alan Tuttle, 33, of Apache Junction, were checked out by officers just after 1 a.m. Monday morning. They were charged with possessing and manufacturing methamphetamines in the room, an undercover agent for the task force said.
After their initial appearance before Judge Ronnie McDaniel Monday morning, Lanning and Tuttle remained in custody in Globe awaiting a June 22 trial date.
Law enforcement officials were tipped off by a concerned citizen who called regarding suspected drug activity, the task force agent said. The tip led undercover officers to Pine, where three officers knocked on the motel room door about 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
The officers asked both suspects to step outside for questioning. After finding probable cause, officers were able to detain the suspects until securing a warrant to search their motel room.
It was about 1:15 a.m. when police opened the motel room door disclosing what the agent said was an array of chemicals and equipment used to create illicit drugs. The Pine-Strawberry Fire Department was called in because of the potentially explosive nature of the chemicals involved. Police also began the late-night evacuation of the four remaining motel rooms and a couple of nearby trailers.
"At 3:15 this morning, I was awakened by voices in the backyard," local resident Sherbie Tollefson said. "It was the sound of the fireman turning off the propane tank. They were shutting off the propane because it's such a volatile situation."
Crews evacuated 14 people from the motel grounds, but they didn't disturb the residents of the adjacent Pine Creek RV Park, which Tollefson manages. Tollefson said she had no idea that suspicious activities were taking place right outside her window.
"I have been smelling a strong cat urine odor, and I just thought it was a mountain lion or something," she said. "As it turns out, it was the meth lab." Tollefson said she had once watched a news story on television that said that smell was a telltale sign of a meth lab.
In the tiny village, Tollefson said everyone she talked to was shocked.
"In our town? A meth lab?" she said.
Hotel rooms across the country are being used more and more to house the drug trade, the task force agent said, adding that it appeared the suspects had already been to several other motels.
"It's a shame that it happened in this motel," the agent said. "They are very small to have to absorb the costs that might be involved."
When officers left the motel Monday morning, room 3 was stripped clean, from carpet to ceiling.
"They ripped everything out -- they had to," said Loren Johnson, Rim Cafe and Motel owner. He estimates the motel's cost will be about $2,500 to ready the room for more customers.
But it is not just the repair that will cost this small-town businessman.
As the Monday morning commute began, Johnson watched most of his customers drive by his closed door. Normally open for breakfast at 5 a.m., the little cafe could not open until almost 9 a.m. -- long after the morning rush.
Add to that the loss of $45 per night forfeited until room 3 can be repaired.
"This cost me a lot of money," Johnson said.
The suspects left behind a pet rottweiler that is taking up residence temporarily at the Payson Humane Society, until relatives of the suspects can pick it up.
As of press time, the two suspects remain in Gila County jail in lieu of $20,000 bond each.