Timothy Zimmer, 40, of Payson, is facing multiple charges related to the operation of a methamphetamine lab in Jake's Corner.
"The meth lab was largely dismantled when the warrant was served, but it could be put back together and operational in a matter of minutes. It was capable of producing about an ounce of methamphetamine per batch, based on what we saw when we served the warrant,"said Gila County Narcotics Task Force Officer Jim Oestmann.
The task force served a search warrant on the property April 23, assisted by the Arizona Department of Public Safety Special Operations Unit and the Gila County Sheriff's Office, and backed up by the Tonto Basin and Payson Fire Departments, the Tonto Basin ambulance service and the DPS Ranger helicopter out of Phoenix, Oestmann said. There were about 30 officers involved, including all the personnel in the back-up operations.
The task force had conducted a two-year investigation of Zimmer. Oestmann said he worked more exclusively on it since November 2002.
"The tactical entry was conducted by the DPS (special operations unit). It is the only clandestine lab certified SWAT in the state. The reason we used them is because meth labs, in almost any stage, can be extremely hazardous to officer safety and have an explosive atmosphere," Oestmann said.
The DPS special ops officers are equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus and fire-retardant clothing, he said.
"They travel statewide. About 80 percent of their entries are in outlying areas. They work free of charge and are very business-like," Oestmann said.
About 1.5 grams of finished meth were confiscated from the scene. Zimmer was booked on possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of chemicals and equipment to manufacture dangerous drugs, manufacturing dangerous drugs and possession of dangerous drugs.
"We are pursuing additional charges of either child endangerment or child abuse, or both," Oestmann said. There were children playing on the property and toys within inches of discarded materials and residue from the meth lab, he said.
Explaining the process of cleaning up a lab site, Oestmann said the Drug Enforcement Agency has a precise protocol that must be followed, and it pays for that part of an operation.
The protocol includes having a chemist, hazardous materials technician and a bomb technician on the scene to assess the range and level of contamination. They remain at the scene until the site is cleaned up by the DEA's contractor Caldwell Environmental Associates.
"This went really smooth. All our information was on track. We were in and out in just about four hours. Normally something like this takes all day and all night. The preplanning that went into it is what made the difference," Oestmann said.
Anyone with information about possible meth labs, or anyone interested in learning about them, can contact either the Gila County Sheriff's Office, 474-2208, or the drug task force office, 474-0728.