Three rural Hillsboro residents were arrested after area law enforcement agencies shut down a suspected methamphetamine operation south of the city July 31.
Vernon County Sheriff John Spears said charges related to methamphetamine manufacture and child endangerment are being sought against Diane Fronk-Franke, 41; Amber Brown, 39; and Todd Brown, 46.
According to the Vernon County Broadcaster in Viroqua, a special Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response (CLEAR) Team entered the Fronk-Franke residence on Heights Road and the Brown residence on Staley School Road at approximately 11 a.m.
The team included officers from the state Department of Justice (DOJ) and other law enforcement agencies, Spears told the Broadcaster.
In both houses, officers found evidence that Fronk Franke and the Browns were cooking the stimulant red phosphorous methamphetamine, which can produce a deadly gas.
Spears said that child endangerment charges will be sought because eight children ranging in age from 18 months to 17 years old showed signs of exposure to the chemicals, including skin rashes.
In addition, he told the Broadcaster, methamphetamine pipes and equipment were located within feet of a baby crib.
The children were taken into protective custody, as were two seniors, who had no knowledge of the methamphetamine operation in their basement.
Two investigators at the scene were appalled by what they saw.
Tom Johnson, investigative coordinator with the West Central Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG), told WXOW Ch. 19 of La Crosse that the operation was “one of the most dangerous we’ve seen.”
Lt. Scott Bjerkos, an investigator with the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office in Viroqua, told the Broadcaster the labs were the worst he had seen.
Spears said the investigation revealed that red phosphorus meth had been cooked twice a week for the past 18 months.
Officers told WXOW they found “more than several grams of meth” during the raid.
Spears added that the Brown residence was equipped with both video and audio surveillance. An adult at that location was in the process of destroying evidence when officers executed the search warrant.
WXOW reported that one of the raided homes may have to be destroyed. Houses used in meth operations are often uninhabitable, and hence are rarely seized by authorities, according to writer Tom Scheve of science.howstuffworks.com.
The Hillsboro police and fire departments and the Hillsboro Area Ambulance Service participated in the raids, as well as officers from the Sheriff’s Office, the Vernon County HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) team, the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation and West Central MEG.
Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital used its decontamination protocol to assist with processing and examining suspects as well as the children and others who had been exposed to the methamphetamine hazards at both scenes.