published Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Two charged in meth bust

A log cabin and other buildings on the property at 8818 St. Johns Road near Camp Columbus are seen padlocked Thursday with quarantine signs posted by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office after officers raided an alleged meth lab. 
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press
A log cabin and other buildings on the property at 8818 St. Johns Road near Camp Columbus are seen padlocked Thursday with quarantine signs posted by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office after officers raided an alleged meth lab. Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

There were signs that the two secluded homes at the end of St. Johns Road in Hixson had a meth lab.

There were loud fights.

Neighbors reported stolen tools from their sheds.

As many as 75 vehicles traveled down the dead-end street on any given evening.

And about a week ago, a resident found that the battery and its cables had been stolen from his lawnmower when he went to cut the grass, parts that can be used as part of a meth-cooking apparatus.

On Thursday morning, authorities raided the two homes at 8818 St. Johns Road, off Hixson Pike near Dallas Bay. At least two people were arrested from the residence with more charges expected, according to arrest reports.

Meth-making equipment, including chemicals and pseudoephedrine, and other prescription drugs were seized, the reports said.

Brenton Douglas Ledford, 26, and Danielle Rae Ledford, 28, both face charges of initiating manufacture of meth, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal conspiracy to manufacture meth and criminal conspiracy for theft, records show.

“I will say, it’s about time. The drug trafficking has been going on since I’ve lived here,” said one male resident who has lived in the neighborhood for well over a decade but didn’t want to give his name out of worries about retaliation.

As of Thursday night, both Ledfords remained in custody with a court date scheduled for Tuesday.

Danielle Ledford was in jail without bond. Court records show she had prior meth-related drug arrests. Brenton Ledford remained in jail on a $35,000 bond, according to jail records.

The two homes were boarded up early Thursday morning after an abatement nuisance order from Hamilton County Chancery Court was executed at the residence. The owner must go before a Chancery Court chancellor before being allowed to return to the home. If certain conditions are violated, the home can be seized, Hammond said.

The nuisance order was years in the making.

Since 2008, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office deputies have visited the residence 82 times, records show. Of those calls, 62 came from the property and 20 from nearby residents reporting criminal activity.

In 2010, there were 10 calls involving meth manufacturing, vandalism, assault and disorders.

In 2009, there was a hit-and-run crash involving one of the homes’ occupants at the corner of St. Johns and Camp Columbus roads. There were thefts and burglaries, and a neighbor’s pet schnauzer was attacked by a resident’s pit bull.

In 2008, there were reports of disturbing the peace and meth-related charges.

In 2003, there were two meth-related reports.

In 2001, there was the seizure of a meth lab, according to a sheriff’s office statement.

“If you went back 15 years, you couldn’t stack the number of reports on this porch,” said one neighbor.

So why does it take so long to get an order?

“They’re not that common. It’s the first (nuisance) abatement in several years,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond. “It has to be a pretty bad situation before the courts approve those,” noting there often has to be series of convictions of the property’s owners or residents.

Deputies responded to the St. Johns’ residences Thursday after there was a complaint of a suspicious odor. Three men were seen fleeing from the garage and will be prosecuted at a later date, according to the report.

Three women and three children were found inside one of the homes, the report said.

After getting consent to search, authorities found a meth lab inside the garage as well as a motorcycle that had been reported stolen and prescription pills on some of the occupants, the report said.

After the bust, many residents of the neighborhood freely discussed their suspicions about the possible meth labs, but declined to be named.

Neighbors said it has been a long process to get a strong response from authorities.

“It takes a lot to get heard,” said one of the neighbors hours after the bust was completed.

One woman said, “They come and look and do nothing. It’s just one arrest after another.”

Residents said they became organized after the sheriff’s office helped form a neighborhood watch group to build a case.

“Once you find a neighborhood that is serious, it can make a world of difference, and that’s what happened in this case,” Hammond said.

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