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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | NORTH / LA HABRA

Neighbors Routed by Drug Lab Bust

June 03, 1998|VALERIE BURGHER

In one of the largest drug seizures in county history, police confiscated more than $900,000 worth of hallucinogenic mushrooms and dismantled a methamphetamine lab Tuesday in a La Habra neighborhood.

"It's just an ungodly amount of mushrooms," La Habra Police Officer Rich Kanger said. "You just don't see mushrooms around that much anymore, let alone this much."

Authorities evacuated 40 residents from the Glencliff Street apartment complex, where the drugs were found Monday night. Police arrested one resident of the home, 26-year-old Sean Heinzelmann, booking him into the city jail on suspicion of felony possession and manufacturing of illegal drugs.

Continuing police activity Tuesday temporarily disrupted voting at an Elmsford Avenue precinct across the street from the crime scene, as voters were redirected to an alternate entrance.

"This did definitely create a disturbance," said resident Edward Chapman, who was volunteering at the polling station. "We should have known something was going on when we came to set up [Monday] night and there were a few police cars here."

Police were called to the 800 block of Glencliff at 6 p.m. Monday after the manager of the Il Pompeii apartment complex discovered the drug lab in a unit set to be vacated, said Kanger.

The Orange County Department of Toxic Substance control and the Orange County Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement assisted local police.

Investigators said they found 1,513 jars filled with mushrooms, as well as "recipes" for methamphetamine, the so-called party drug GHB and volatile chemicals that, if ignited, could have caused serious damage.

The apartment "was sealed off immediately. As soon as we saw all the chemicals, we knew we had a major situation on our hands," Kanger said.

"A quart of the ether alone could take out this whole block," said Anaheim Investigator Paul Haas with the County Narcotic Enforcement Team.

"The container had a little bit of rust on the top, which makes it that much more volatile. Anything could have blown it up--a match, a spark, even something as little as a light switch going on."

Discovery of the narcotics and the lab surprised some neighbors, who described the area as a quiet enclave for seniors.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Stella Jaimes, a resident of the neighboring complex since December. "It's a nice complex, pretty low-key, hardly any trouble. I do my laundry, read my book on the patio and have never heard any commotion. It's scary to think how dangerous it is, and so close."

Tuesday's incident was not, however, the first time the La Habra neighborhood had seen drug crime. In May 1997, just blocks away, police arrested two men after a drug lab caught fire on the 1500 block of Sheffield Drive.

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