The discovery of a potentially volatile drug lab in an apartment over a detached garage on Lebrun Circle Saturday afternoon kept authorities from five agencies on the scene for 15 hours, said Amherst Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen.
“By all appearances they were operating a clandestine drug lab,” said Cohen, public information officer.
Law enforcement “took everything out of the apartment, following protocol to clear the lab of the hazardous chemicals,” Cohen said. “It’s all been taken to the crime lab to be analyzed. We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.”
Initial reports from a source close to the probe that identified the drug as ecstasy were not dismissed by Cohen. Ecstasy is “probably on the short list of things they are looking at,” Cohen said.
No arrests have yet been made, but Cohen said Monday that “based on what they found, where they found it and how much they found” federal charges were possible. The severity of the charges will depend on the quantity of drugs at the scene and the intent for manufacturing them, Cohen said.
Lebrun Circle is an upscale neighborhood located in southwest Amherst near the University of Buffalo South Campus, Grover Cleveland Park and Veterans Hospital. Most homes range from $450,000 to $1 million. Many residences feature detached three-car garages. The apartments located above the garages originally served as living quarters for the house staff and grounds keepers.
The complaint that brought the small army of investigators to the garage apartment on Lebrun Circle was phoned in by the owner of the main house who reported an odor of natural gas, said Cohen.
Police did not release the address.
“The initial investigation crossed over three shifts and included from 12 to 15 Amherst police officers,” Cohen said. “We disbanded at 6:53 a.m. Sunday.”
Also responding to the scene was Amherst emergency services coordinator, Eggertsville Hose Company and Brighton Volunteer Fire Company No. 5 Hazardous Material Response Team. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Clandestine Lab Enforcement Team and State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team were also called to the scene.
“The DEA took everything. They took small samples of each chemical to test and then they contract with a private company to destroy the rest,” explained Cohen.
Police said the apartment was not occupied during the investigation, but would not say whether it was being used as a residence or strictly for drug-making purposes.
One resident who lived on Lebrun Circle for 62 years said she was awakened Saturday night by the sound of a fire department rig backing down the street.
“That’s not going to help property values, is it?” Jayne Freeman said Monday during a telephone interview. “This is not a neighborhood where people really know each other, but it’s not as bad as it used to be because we’re getting more young families, We don’t get very many people driving through. We get a lot of walkers who work at the VA hospital.”
On Saturday and into Sunday both Brighton and Eggertsville Hose were on the scene in the event anything caught fire or exploded during the processing of evidence, Cohen said.
No money was recovered, he added.
Was the owner aware of the tenant’s illegal pursuit?
“I don’t know,” Cohen answered, “but would you expect them to report an odor of natural gas if they knew what was going on in the apartment?”
The drug manufacturing process can be extremely dangerous, police said, because it may involve “toxic ingredients” – including battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fuel or antifreeze – that produce toxic odors and waste.
Detective Alan Rozansky, chief of narcotics at the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, is not involved in the investigation on Lebrun Circle. But over the years he has been involved in investigating many drug labs in the city and the suburbs.
“This is not unique to the city,” Rozansky said. “We just had one on Grand Island recently. Drug labs are everywhere. We’ve got them out in Wales. It’s not unique to one area in Erie County. This isn’t a rich man or poor man issue. Drugs are out of hand.”