Thumb meth makers going mobile — in vehicles


SANDUSKY — Police allege Joshua Robert Cowdry — and maybe someone riding with him — rolled across the farm fields of Michigan’s Thumb area in a 1996 Pontiac Montana minivan, cooking highly addictive methamphetamine using a volatile process with potentially explosive consequences.
Investigators with the Sanilac County Drug Task Force say they arrested Cowdry, 36, of Sandusky, on Tuesday after pulling over a minivan he drove in Marlette Township. He was arraigned on seven criminal charges Thursday in Sanilac County District Court.
And Drug Task Force Director James Johnson figures there may be others out on the roads, or in store parking lots, making methamphetamine instead of producing it in locations such as rental homes.
“I think people that are using meth or making meth are making it at home, so they’re using vehicles so they can drive someplace where they think that they’re obscure,” Johnson said. “Most people don’t drive down the road and make it, but they’re using their vehicles as a place to make a lab.”
Cowdry is charged with operating and maintaining a lab involving methamphetamine, delivering or manufacturing methamphetamine or ecstasy, and five other crimes. He remained in the Sanilac County Jail on Friday afternoon after failing to post $100,000 bond, awaiting an April 4 hearing on the evidence.
Johnson alleges Cowdry made methamphetamine inside a relative’s minivan. Methamphetamine producers often make the drug using soda pop bottles and pseudoephedrine extracted from pill decongestants.
“That is the chemical that they want to extract out of those pills,” Johnson said. “They do a chemical changeover with that, and that’s what they make meth out of.
“There are some pretty redneck chemists out there.”
The practice of trying to extract pseudoephedrine from pills is “very volatile,” Johnson stressed.
“They can’t let the air get to the chemicals and the reaction inside (pop bottles), but the bottles that they use expand and they have to let the pressure out,” Johnson said. “If air hits that — if there’s any exposure to the air at all when they let the pressure out of the bottle, it’s just like a time bomb. It just blows (up).”
An explosion could harm not only the occupants of a vehicle, but nearby bystanders.
“You have to imagine, in your mind, if these guys are actually using the product as they’re making it or as they’re driving — how dangerous that is also,” Johnson said.
In St. Clair County, he said, “they actually had a traffic accident where a guy was burping his bottle driving (a vehicle) down the road and it blew up on him — he was letting the pressure out of the bottle.”
Sanilac County Drug Task Force members said they pulled over the minivan driven by Cowdry on Tuesday about 4:15 p.m. because they knew he had no driver’s license after investigating and arresting him on prior methamphetamine-related charges.
Police said they stopped the vehicle at the intersection of Decker and Frenchline roads about three miles northeast of Marlette.
Johnson said there are clues to detecting makers of methamphetamine, such as presence of Mister Plumber drain opener bottles often used in producing the drug.
“They actually take apart lithium batteries … so if you see batteries that are open or cut open from the side and split open” it can indicate the presence of a methamphetamine maker, Johnson said.
Pseudoephedrine, found in Sudafed and some types of Nyquil, is sought after in pill or tablet form.
“You’ve got pseudoephedrine medication packs where it looks like they’ve emptied out the whole pack all at once,” Johnson said. “You’ve got bottles with small hoses going through the top for aeration that they let out that are filled with (something that) looks like sludge or white sludge on the bottom.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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