By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
A probation officer making an unannounced visit to an east Baker City home was taken to the emergency room with inflamed lungs after discovering an active methamphetamine lab in the basement Tuesday.
Jim King was treated at the hospital and released with pain medication to treat the inflammation his lungs sustained after breathing fumes from the drug lab, said Thomas Van Artsdalen, Baker County Parole and Probation Department director.
King said he visited the house at 1627 Valley Ave. Tuesday morning after receiving a tip of a possible probation violation involving the residents, Albert Scott, 41, and his wife, Teresa, 42.
The Scotts were placed on probation April 12 for drug crimes, Van Artsdalen said. Albert Scott was ordered to complete three years probation for delivering and manufacturing methamphetamine. Teresa Scott was placed on 18 months probation for possessing methamphetamine. Drug offenders are ordered, as a condition of probation, to complete drug packages, which require them to seek a drug evaluation and treatment, Van Artsdalen said.
King said he went into the basement of the house looking for a person and discovered the lab behind a loose board in the crawl space area.
"I got out of there as fast as I could go," he said. "I didn't want to know any more. By the time I got upstairs my throat was burning and my lungs were killing me."
He had alerted the Baker County Narcotics Enforcement Team before arriving at the house, and task force members were standing by to respond. Two Oregon State Police detectives from La Grande removed evidence from the house wearing respirator masks and white chemical protective suits. On initial entry they wore self-contained breathing tanks to avoid inhaling any noxious fumes.
King remained at the site for several hours Tuesday before seeking treatment. He was back at work today, Van Artsdalen said.
The Scotts and two other people were in the house when King and probation officer Josie Hermann arrived. Hermann was not injured, Van Artsdalen said.
Before they were taken into custody for probation violation, the Scotts, along with their son and pet dog, were required to wash down in three wading pools the Baker City Fire Department placed in the street near a sewer drain. Valley Avenue was cordoned off for several blocks during the process.
Draped by tarps, the Scotts stripped down and entered the pools one at a time to be cleaned. Their clothing was sacked up and placed in evidence.
First, each was rinsed in a "gross decontamination pool," then soaped and washed down in a second pool before being rinsed again in the third pool.
Albert and Teresa Scott then were given black-and-white jumpsuits before being taken into custody and transported to the Baker County Jail. Their teen-age son was placed with relatives after being washed and receiving fresh clothing from the Department of Human Resources, according to Chris Black, juvenile department director.
The boy also received school supplies and a backpack through the Department of Human Services' school supply drive, Black said. And he was supplied with other clothing through DHS because all of his belongings were left in the house and it is unknown whether he'll be able to retrieve them because of possible contamination. The boy has not been charged with any crimes in connection with Tuesday's investigation, Black said.
The family's dog also was soaped up and washed down before being released.
Fred Hertel, assistant fire chief, who was in charge of the decontamination operation, said that although the department had been through the procedures several times in training, this was the first actual decontamination exercise for his crew. Four on-duty officers participated and two others were called back to man the department during the cleanup, he said.
After the chemical content of the water in the pools was tested and found to be within safe limits, it was dumped into the city sewer drain, Hertel said. The firefighters spent about two hours at the scene.
Decontamination is necessary to avoid spreading the chemicals, which can cause skin damage, to others that those in the house might come in contact with, he said.
Another person known to have been in the house Tuesday also was arrested on a charge of violating terms of his probation. Andrew Nelson, 36, of 2413 Third St., was taken into custody at 1:19 p.m. by Baker City Police and jailed. He was placed on 18 months probation on March 20 for possession of a controlled substance, Van Artsdalen said.
The investigation is continuing.