A state trooper's decision to patrol rural dirt roads in the Nevils area Friday led to a manhunt after two suspects with a rolling meth lab fled on foot. The search centered around a section of Henry Futch Road off Old Groveland Road.
Luke Cannon, 28, Cowboy Way, Portal, turned himself in after a couple of hours, but Bulloch County Sheriff's investigators and Bulloch County Drug Suppression Team agents still sought Christopher Shawn Lee, of a Pembroke address, as of Friday night, said Bulloch County Drug Suppression Team Capt. Rick Rountree.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, Georgia State Patrol Trooper First-Class Carl Hutchinson was driving on Henry Futch Road, patrolling "back roads" on his way back from a road check in Evans County to GSP Post 45 in Statesboro.
He saw a silver Ford F-150 "just parked in the middle of the road" and thought the occupants might be broken down, he said. But when he questioned the men, in spite of their claim to have run out of gas, they acted suspiciously, he said.
Hutchinson noticed a small fire had been built in the sandy roadway, near the edge of a trail that led back into timberland. He also noticed a strong chemical smell, and asked Lee and Cannon to stay in the truck while he checked their identity.
Cannon, the passenger in the truck, was unruly and belligerent, Hutchinson said. Both men were "nervous, and I could tell something wasn't right." Suddenly, Cannon threw down a beer he had been drinking and took off running into the woods.
Hutchinson ordered Lee to remain in the truck, but he fled as well, he said. After calling for assistance, Hutchinson detected the strong odor of chemicals coming from a dirty, stained cooler in the truck, and contacted Rountree "to deactivate" what was found to be a "rolling" meth lab, he said.
The cooler was filled with "all the items needed to make meth," Rountree said. A plastic cup also held what he called "meth oil," which he said was a stage in the methamphetamine-making process called "shake and bake."
The process takes about two hours, yields about four grams of meth, and is a common practice for meth users, he said. The fire the men had built was a mystery, since they did not need the fire to produce the drug in the manner they were using, he said.
As law enforcement sought the two men, the charred ashes of the fire lay undisturbed. A beer can was seen on the ground near the spot where the men fled.
As several law enforcement officers from the BCDST, GSP and Bulloch County Sheriff's Office remained stationed at several points along Henry Futch Road and surrounding areas, the GSP helicopter unit took a trooper into the air in efforts to locate Lee and Cannon. Some at the scene who apparently knew one of the suspects contacted them on cell phones, and Cannon sent messages to law enforcement that he would turn himself in. He did so hours later, surrendering at the Bulloch County Sheriff's Department, said GSP Capt. Kirk McGlamery.
Deputies, troopers and others searched the area, checking out homes, campers and vehicles in which they suspected the offenders may have been hiding. Well after dark Friday night, Lee still had not yet been located.
In addition to charges of criminal attempt to manufacture methamphetamine and obstruction, Lee is wanted by the United States Marshals on felony probation warrants, Rountree said. Cannon is charged with criminal attempt to manufacture methamphetamine and obstruction as well, and is being held in the Bulloch County Jail awaiting a bond hearing.
Rountree said the process to make the drug was interrupted when he responded to the scene and dismantled the set-up, which is why the charges are as they are instead of charges of manufacturing meth.
Anyone with information about Lee's whereabouts is asked to contact the Bulloch County Sheriff's Department at 912-764-8888.