Three Rim country residents were arrested early Friday morning and booked into jail after a search of a 24-foot travel trailer in Ox Bow Estates turned up a methamphetamine lab.
Lori Lynn Rawdon, 38, Lon Franklin St Clair, 33, and Amy Darlene Bondzeit, 21, were booked into the Gila County jail, facing charges of manufacturing a dangerous drug, possession of chemicals and equipment to manufacture a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Detective John Huffman provided a grim description of the three arrested, calling it "a sad case of humanity gone astray."
"All are destitute and firmly hooked on methamphetamine. They have nothing little food, no money, no running water and are borrowing electricity," Huffman said. "They are so hooked on drugs that nothing else is important to them ... so addicted that nothing else is important in their lives"
The department's tactical response team served the warrant shortly before 10 p.m. on the travel trailer located on Nottingham Way.
Rawdon has a prior arrest in November 2001 for possession of a dangerous drug and equipment and chemicals to manufacture a dangerous drug after a search warrant was served on her residence in the 2100 block of N. Florence in Payson.
The continued pursuit of those involved in illegal drug activity falls into line with Chief Gordon Gartner's zero tolerance attitude regarding the sale and manufacture of methamphetamine.
"We are going to continue to put pressure on the drug dealers," Gartner said. "We will seize every opportunity to arrest and bring these people to justice as long as they choose to conduct illegal drug activity within a close proximity of Payson."
The department's two special enforcement officers, Huffman and Doug Johnson, who are permanently assigned to investigate illegal drug activity continued their investigation and surveillance of Rawdon after she moved to Ox Bow.
Officers at the scene felt the obvious dangers of the caustic chemicals used to manufacture meth. Within minutes of serving the warrant, many, including some who had not even entered the trailer, complained of an irritated throat and headache. These ill-effects were suffered even though officers were inside the mobile for only minutes.
"As soon as we saw the chemicals and equipment, we closed it up," Huffman said.
The Drug Enforcement Agency was contacted and advised of the situation, which in turn activated the Department of Public Safety's hazardous material team, chemist and explosive ordinance specialist to respond to the scene.
The DPS chemist confirmed that the trailer contained a fully-operational meth lab. A number of items were seized from the trailer including chemicals and equipment used to manufacture the drug as well as drug paraphernalia used to ingest methamphetamine.
All three suspects are being held in lieu of a $50,000 bond.
When asked how serious the meth problem is in Payson, Huffman said, "Every time I have arrested someone on drug charges over the last three years, I ask them to rate the severity of drug use in Payson on a scale of 1-10 and all of them say it is an 8 or 9, with 10 being the highest. We have a serious problem."
Chief Gartner said the pressure will continue.
"We are offering substantial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone selling or manufacturing methamphetamine...or any other illegal substance," Gartner said. "Ultimately they will either be in jail, be driven out of this area, or change their lifestyle. The choice is theirs."