WALLA WALLA - One of the largest active methamphetamine labs in Walla Walla County history was discovered Wednesday evening when the city SWAT team raided a local motel, arresting a career criminal and the establishment's manager, officials said.
The search warrant was served about 6 p.m. at the Walla Walla Vineyard Inn, 325 E. Main St., after the city's Drug Unit received information that a meth lab was inside one of the rooms, according to a police department new release.
As the team forced entry through the front door of the motel room, the suspect, Clifford E. Chew, 56, allegedly escaped through the back door, but was apprehended a short distance away.
Also apprehended at the scene was the motel's manager, Dena R. Turner, 37, after a large quantity of ammonia was discovered in her freezer, the news release says. Ammonia is a common precursor in the manufacturing of meth.
Chew was booked into the County Jail on investigation of manufacturing methamphetamine and other felony drug-related charges.
Turner was arrested on investigation of complicity to manufacturing methamphetamine.
Lab-certified law enforcement officers secured and disassembled the lab apparatus in Chew's room without incident and took it to a secure location, the news release says. Finished meth and items used to manufacture and distribute the controlled substance allegedly were seized.
Officials said they don't know how long Chew had been cooking meth there.
Reportedly a career criminal, he had been sought for allegedly absconding from Umatilla County. He has more than 35 felony arrests and convictions on his record for crimes such as attempted murder, first-degree assault, burglary and numerous drug violations.
Contamination levels at the Vineyard Inn weren't immediately known, but it was still operating this morning. Occupants of rooms near where the meth lab was found were relocated to other rooms, police spokesman Tim Bennett said today. He added that the county Health Department was notified this morning.
One SWAT team member suffered an injured knee during Wednesday's raid. The team was supported by Walla Walla County sheriff's deputies, city patrol officers and the city's Special Teams Unit.
The number of meth labs in Washington State reportedly has dropped dramatically over the past few years, with much of the controlled substance coming into the country through Mexico.