WINTON -- A quiet residential neighborhood hosted a sizable meth lab bust Wednesday as Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force investigators made five arrests and found more than $400,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine.
Investigators found one small child in the 6814 Arlene Drive home, which was saturated with dangerous levels of toxic fumes.
The team of investigators, which included agents from the Fresno High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area team, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and the Merced County Sheriff's Department served a search warrant at the home at 9 a.m.
They arrested suspects Luis Murillo, 27, Jose Marcos, 30, Sonia Zavalas, 20, Maria Quintero, 28, and Hector Ramos, 22, -- all residents of the home.
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Inside, the agents found about 25 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with a street value between $18,000 and $25,000 per pound, said Cmdr. Neil Compston of the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force.
The agents found manufacturing items, including a variety of cooking vessels, flasks, large pots and other equipment. There were also several large blenders, sometimes used to grind the pills in making meth, as well as money counters and an undisclosed sum of cash.
Investigators wearing breathing ventilators and protective suits could be seen removing a large, freshly made chunk of orange crystal meth from the home. A handgun was also found in one of the rooms, investigators said.
The home contained several large garbage bags of discarded waste materials and chemicals, which agents believed the suspects intended to dump. Investigators said some of the chemicals were melting through the plastic bags.
While it isn't to rare find a meth operation inside a single-family home, those kinds of operations usually are found in more rural areas.
"This is pretty large-scale, especially for this area," said Agent Paul Llanez of the Merced Multi-Agency Task Force.
The investigators also found a 2-year-old boy inside the home, the son of Zavalas and Murillo. The boy was taken to a hospital and treated for exposure to toxic fumes. An 11-year-old boy also lived at the home and was at school when the bust occurred.
Both children are now in the custody of Merced County Child Protective Services. "They've been exposed to all these chemicals," Llanez said.
Compston said the suspects will face child endangerment charges for keeping the children in the home, which investigators said was filled with poisonous fumes.
After arriving at the scene, Compston said the pungent odor of acetone, one of the components used in making meth, was palpable. "It was a knock you down, strong kind of smell," Compston said.
The bust came followed a weeklong investigation, Comptson said.
In addition to child endangerment charges, the suspects will be booked on charges of meth possession and meth possession for sale.
Residents of the neighborhood said they were surprised about the bust. Mario Moreno, 50, who lives nearby, said the suspects moved to the house about six months ago. "I never smelled anything suspicious," Moreno said. "It's a bad thing if there were children there. That concerns me."