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Joint efforts brings halt to possible meth lab

A joint effort by town and county authorities stopped two Virginia men who investigators say had the makings for a methamphetamine lab.
The investigation began Monday when Unicoi County Sheriff’s Deparment Sgt. Heather Reams was tipped off that two men, David Keith Price and Raymond E. Cross, were coming into the city’s five pharmacies and buying the precursors for making meth.
Reams shared the information with Erwin Police Department Chief Regan Tilson and UCSD narcotics investigators who joined together in the investigation.
Tilson, a certified meth technician, said Price and Cross purchased a specific type of iodine in large quantities, which is a precursor ingredient for cooking meth. Officers were able to stake out pharmacies on Wednesday and Thursday based on information received that the two men would be returning to Erwin.
On Thursday afternoon, at approximately 3:50 p.m., UCSD Sgt. Frank Rogers spotted the men at a pharmacy and Tilson, dressed in casual clothing, followed Price, 48, and Cross, 34, into another pharmacy. The men went into all five of Erwin’s pharmacies – CVS, Walgreens, Roller’s, Clinchfield Drug and Rite-Aid.
A traffic stop was initiated and Tilson asked Cross and Price why they were in Erwin, and they allegedly said to purchase salad dressing, specifically Italian salad dressing.
“I asked if the pharmacies were having a sale on that,” Tilson said.
Oddly, salad dressing was found during a consent search of the vehicle. But, so was the recently purchased iodine, 10 cases of match books, sodium nitrate and extracted ephedrine. In total, 800 match books were found and the red phosphorous had been extracted from 300 of those books.
The men were charged with promotion of methamphetamine manufacture and initiation of meth process.
With addresses from Virginia, authorities believe the men were staying at a hotel, not locally, and had come into Erwin to purchase the ingredients because they didn’t think the purchases would raise a red flag in a small town.
Sheriff Kent Harris commended the citizens and pharmacy workers who worked with investigators to quickly catch Cross and Price.
“I hope we will send a message to these type of thugs that Erwin and Unicoi County is the wrong place to do this type of activities,” Harris said.
Tilson echoed Harris’ praise and said educational efforts to raise awareness about what it takes to manufacture meth is what helped raise red flags and cause the tips to be communicated with officers.
“All drugs are terrible, but none are as dangerous as meth,” Tilson said. “Something like a meth lab is beyond dangerous. It’s the worst of the worst.”
Other officers involved with the investigation were EPD Detective Tony Buchanan and UCSD Special Deputy Danny Duncan Sr. Between the city and county, there are nine certified meth techs that received specialized training for the proper handling and investigations involving the drug. Those officers are from the EPD, Patrolman Jimmy Chandler, Capt. Daryl Price, Patrolman Bobby Rutherford, Buchanan and Tilson, and from the UCSD, Lt. Jimmy Erwin, Capt. Ron Arnold, Sgt. Stacy Wigand and Sgt. Greg Copp. Rogers will be attending training in the near future to earn the certification.