By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DEERFIELD TWP. - Among the dozens of customers who passed through the Meijer gas station Sunday night, two stood out to clerk Tony Funk. They were buying automotive starting fluid.
Funk, 20, of Lebanon, said he works on cars as a hobby, so he knows it takes awhile to deplete a single can of starting fluid.
"I thought it was kind of odd that two guys would come in, buy two cans of starter fluid, then act like they weren't together and get into the same van," Funk said.
Police say his suspicions led them to bust a major illegal drug lab and arrest two suspects.
Matthew Musgrove, 38, and Samuel Goodin, 50, face charges of illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, illegal assembly of chemicals, possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
They were being held in the Warren County Jail awaiting a Mason Municipal Court hearing today.
Authorities say this case is another symptom of Greater Cincinnati's growing problem with "meth" - and that is one reason why Warren and five other southern and central Ohio counties are trying to get federal funds and expertise to fight the problem. The other counties are Hamilton, Greene, Montgomery, Franklin and Fairfield.
So far this year, Warren County has shut down five "meth" labs - just two fewer than all of last year, said John Burke, commander of the Warren-Clinton Drug and Strategic Operations Task Force.
He said the latest bust in the 9900 block of Rich Road was among the most significant.
"The amount of paraphernalia and chemicals we found there tells us it's been a very substantial meth lab, capable of producing quite a bit ... possibly the largest in our area in terms of potential production," Burke said.
Investigators searched the Rich Road home after deputies spotted the van outside and smelled ether and other tell-tale odors they associated with meth production.
The ethyl ether found in automotive starting fluid is one chemical that can be used in an essential step of meth-making process: to help extract pseudoephedrine from over-the-counter cold medications.
Police said they found about 60 cans of starting fluid, a large quantity of peeled-open lithium batteries and about 1,000 empty blister packs of cold medicine along with anhydrous ammonia, all of which can be used to produce meth.
Had it not been for Funk, the Meijer clerk, and fast-acting Warren County sheriff's deputies, the lab could have remained undiscovered, he said.
A Meijer gas station clerk for 21/2 years, Funk had paid attention to news reports and store fliers warning about starting fluid and other common household chemicals that can be used to make meth, a powerful, addictive stimulant. The cooking process is potentially explosive, and creates toxic and environmentally hazardous waste.
Funk jotted down the van's license plate number and shared his information with store security officers. Soon, the men came into the main Meijer store and bought other items; store security alerted Warren County sheriff's deputies.
Sheriff Tom Ariss said the deputies acted on instinct and went to areas where meth had been a problem, searching for the van. "Their hunch paid off," he said.
Among the items seized were about 50 cans of starting fluid.
Burke said the deputies and Funk deserve credit for their actions; store manager Ted Bedell said, "We're glad he (Funk) was on his toes."
Funk said he didn't think what he did was a big deal, but he encourages other people to pay more attention to their surroundings. "If more people were more alert, I think it would be a great step toward clearing this problem out of our area," he said.
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