It’s been said that no good deed goes unpunished. Timothe Keyser, a Chico resident whose home was placed on the county’s permanent online list of meth lab sites, learned that lesson the hard way.
Last summer, Keyser allowed her ex-husband to stay at her home while she was in England. She knew he was struggling with a drug problem, but she also knew he had nowhere else to go. A compassionate person who at the time was kitchen manager at the Jesus Center, Keyser said she couldn’t stand to see her ex on the streets, so she asked him to feed her cats while she was gone.
When she got back, not only were there items missing from her home, but her ex had moved many of his belongings into a detached garage on her property. When Keyser went out to remove the stuff, she discovered a footlocker full of glass flasks, surgical tubing and other items, part of a portable lab kit used to make methamphetamine.
“When I opened that box and saw what was in it, I was terrified,” she said. “We had been married for 20 years [prior to 2000, but] his personality had deteriorated to the point where I was scared of him.”
Thinking she could get her ex some help if she turned him in, she contacted the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force (BINTF), which sent officers out to pick up the footlocker. Keyser’s ex was arrested and eventually did get help.
But while he’s currently sober and has a job, Keyser said, her home has been designated as a meth lab.
“I would be humiliated if I was an addict, but not being an addict … it’s more than humiliating,” she said. “[Meth] goes totally against what I stand for and what I believe in.”
Although there was no evidence that any meth was ever made on the property, (Keyser’s ex stated in a deposition that he never used the lab kit while he was on the property because he couldn’t find the right chemicals) BINTF forwarded Keyser’s address to the Sheriff’s Department, which compiles a list of properties where meth labs have been discovered in Butte County. The list, which is viewable at www.2stopmeth.org, is supposed to help neighbors and potential new occupants identify such labs, which can remain contaminated with hazardous chemicals for years.
Keyser said she supports the program and is anti-drug all the way, but she feels her property was unfairly placed on the list. Not only is she humiliated at the thought of her neighbors seeing her property branded a meth lab, she is worried that, should she ever try to sell the house, the listing could cost her thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, said Butte County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention officer Cheryl Kyle, there is no way to have a property removed from the list.
“We don’t take them off the Web site,” Kyle said. “The chemicals used to make meth are highly toxic, highly carcinogenic and even deadly. If she moves out and somebody else moves in, [the new occupants] have a right to know there was dangerous material there.”
Kyle, who insists every property on the list deserves to be there, said that in special cases such as Keyser’s, a note is made relating the circumstances of how the property came to be listed.
Keyser said if her property is not removed from the list, she plans to seek help from State Assemblyman Rick Keene, who recently passed legislation mandating that homes where meth has been produced must be cleaned up and certified safe before being sold.
Meth is a huge problem in Butte County, both in terms of the social cost on its users and in the environmental damage caused by its manufacture. Chemicals like acetone, phosphorous and sulfuric acid are used in the process and then dumped surreptitiously in creeks, dumpsters and vacant lots. For every pound of meth produced, five pounds of hazardous waste is generated. Butte County has the sixth highest number of meth labs in the state, according to BINTF.