ROCKINGHAM — The number of meth lab busts across the state is the lowest in five years, according to statistics from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
The SBI reports there were 376 busts in 2016. In this decade, the only other years with fewer than 400 busts were 2011 and 2010.
A map showing the number of busts by county indicates that the trend is also true in Richmond County, which only had 12 — tying with Stanly County in having the seventh-highest number of labs.
That’s more than half the number of labs that were discovered in 2015, when Richmond ranked No. 3.
Richmond County was also tied with Stanly for the seventh-highest number of meth labs in North Carolina in 2014 with 17 labs each, according to SBI figures. State agents responded to 25 meth labs in Richmond County from 2001-13.
Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office credits a local-state-federal partnership for the decrease.
Because meth was becoming a growing problem, the sheriff’s office and the SBI initiated a federal meth conspiracy investigation with former U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand’s office in 2014. Since then, at least 52 people have been indicted on federal meth charges.
“I hope our collaborative effort with the U.S. Attorney’s office is sending a message that if you cook or mess with meth, and get caught, you’re going to prison for a long time,” he told the Daily Journal Thursday evening.
At least 20 individuals were convicted and sentenced on meth-related charges in 2015.
That year, Richmond County tied with neighboring Anson County as having the third-highest number of meth labs in the state, both with 27, according to the SBI.
This year, Anson county ranked second with 22 busts. Johnston County again had the most discovered labs (33), followed by Anson, Wake (18), Onlsow (17), Gaston (16), Iredell (14), Richmond and Stanly. The other 92 counties across the state had 10 labs or fewer.
So far this year, seven defendants have been sentenced to federal prison, including
Brandon Lynn Kiker, who was sentenced to 13 years and six months for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
Kiker and Myra Ann Horne, of Lilesville, were arrested by Rockingham police in late June of last year for cooking the caustic cocktail inside an apartment on Cauthen Drive.
Federal prosecutors say Horne was sentenced to eight years and five months for “conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine.”
During a cleanup near Cascades last march, Rockingham police and other volunteers found four discarded one-pot methamphetamine bottles. Two were found near the creek, two near the railroad tracks, all with a white sludge still inside. Two more were found by volunteers during a cleanup near the Cordova access point.
The now-burned Regal Inn in Rockingham was evauated in October after police discovered an active meth lab in one of the rooms. The first meth lab bust of 2014 was also at that hotel.
So far this year, there have been at least two meth busts in Richmond County — both in February.
Investigators with the sheriff’s office say they were looking into drug activity Feb. 5 when they found 35-year-old Christopher Lee Huckabee in possession of lithium, sulfuric acid, ammonium nitrate and sodium hydroxide, which are all precursors.
Huckabee is also accused of having meth at the Richmond County Jail when he was arrested, as well as throwing corrosive acid on a woman, giving her third-degree burns, last month.
Charles Goodwin and Jenna Haire were also recently charged with manufacturing meth after investigators discovered several key ingredients, as well as peudoephedrine.
Gulledge said investigators are starting to find that meth cooks are going mobile, cooking in vehicles instead of setting up labs inside homes.
“We’re not letting up,” he said. “We’re out still looking for them.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.