A Washington man, described as the third suspect believed to have been involved with an active methamphetamine lab in southern Franklin County, is in custody after a four-plus-hour search took place Monday morning that caused Lonedell School on Highway FF in southeast Franklin County to be locked down as a precaution.
Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said that David Utz, 36, was taken into custody at about 11 a.m. on Monday on an active warrant for his arrest on other felony drug charges. Utz was captured without incident near Elmwood Church between Highway FF and Highway 47.
The other two suspects, whose names have not yet been released, also are in custody after they were apprehended at the residence in the 4000 block of Highway 47 on Sunday night. They are a 29-year-old Lonedell man and a 33-year-old female from St. Clair. Names are being withheld pending formal charges for manufacturing methamphetamine, Toelke said.
Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Bob Parks told The Missourian on Tuesday morning that the cases still are being processed.
According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, at about 6:05 a.m. on Monday, a resident on Elmwood Church Road east of Highway 47 reported seeing someone tampering with her vehicle. Just prior to deputies’ arrival, the subject was able to start the vehicle and drive it away.
“Deputies chased the person driving the vehicle east to Elmwood Church, and a deputy was in that position with road spikes,” Toelke said. “When the individual saw the deputy, he crashed the vehicle into a tree and fled on foot.”
Toelke confirmed to The Missourian on Tuesday morning that the pickup truck that was stolen had several bullet holes in it.
“We’re not sure if a neighbor shot at it or a family member as it was fleeing,” the sheriff said. “We’re trying to sort that out and if it was justified. The back glass was shot out, and there were a few bullet holes on the driver’s side.”
He said so far there is no victim who reported being shot at by anyone.
“The subject we arrested (Utz) said he knows nothing about the truck or being shot at,” Toelke said.
Deputies conducted their search for Utz between Elmwood Church and Weida roads from Highway 47 to Highway FF. Lonedell School is located on Highway FF north of the search area.
Early in the day while the search was going on, deputies visited Lonedell School and informed staff there of the incident and manhunt. As a precaution, the school went on lockdown status.
“We put the school into lockdown on advice from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department,” Lonedell Principal Jen Ulrich told The Missourian on Monday. “We were told that we were not in any imminent danger, but as a precautionary measure we should lock down as they were pursuing a suspect on foot. A highway patrolman was stationed at the school immediately.
“Our staff members handled things just as they were trained. Classes were not disrupted, and many students were unaware that we were on lockdown. The lockdown was lifted at approximately 10:30 a.m. when the suspect was apprehended.”
A phone blast from the school district was issued at about 9:30 a.m. informing parents and patrons of the situation. At the time, the blast said all exterior and classroom doors at the school were locked from the inside and that students would not be going outside for recess as a precaution.
The lockdown was lifted, and a second phone blast was issued announcing the all-clear shortly before 11 a.m. after Utz was in custody.
“We appreciate the care and precaution of both the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol in keeping our campus safe,” Ulrich said.
Before he was captured, Utz was described as a white male wearing dark-colored pants or sweats, an orange hooded sweatshirt and had a gray sweatshirt tied around his waist.
Deputies did locate an orange hoodie while searching the area. Another shirt was observed from the air by authorities riding in the Franklin County Air Unit. A K-9 unit from Jefferson County also aided in the search.
Toelke said Utz was located both by a deputy taking part in the ground search and deputies in the air. He was located about 300 yards from the church.
It was confirmed that Utz was the suspect who had fled the scene from the Highway 47 residence where the meth lab was found on Sunday night. Authorities do not know where he was on Sunday night after he fled.
The ordeal began just outside St. Clair at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday as a Franklin County deputy was conducting extra patrol at the St. Clair VFW Hall, 1087 North Service Road West, because of recent property damage there.
While patrolling, the deputy observed an occupied suspicious vehicle parked near the VFW.
Upon making contact with the occupant, information from the sheriff’s office stated the deputy smelled a chemical odor associated with the manufacturing of meth emitting from the car. There was also drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle.
Further investigation revealed a methamphetamine lab located inside the trunk and a handgun under the front seat.
The driver, a 32-year-old white male from St. Clair, was taken in to custody for investigation of narcotics violations. His name is being withheld pending formal charges.
About 90 minutes later, at 11:56 p.m. Sunday, Toelke said Franklin County deputies responded to the 4000 block of Highway 47 for an arrest attempt on a fugitive. As deputies arrived at the residence, they located two individuals, a male and female, hiding in the backyard. They also detected a chemical odor associated with the manufacturing of meth emitting from the residence.
A search of the residence revealed an active methamphetamine lab inside the home. The Franklin County Narcotics Unit and St. Clair Fire Protection District personnel responded to assist with the lab cleanup and the decontamination of the suspects.
It was later determined that a third subject, Utz, had fled in to the woods just prior to deputies’ arrival.
The subjects taken in to custody are described as a 29-year-old white male from Lonedell and a 33-year-old female from St. Clair. The names are being withheld pending formal charges for manufacturing methamphetamine.
Toelke said two of the three suspects arrested Sunday night have a lengthy incarceration history, including several drug-related charges, driving while intoxicated charges and probation violations.
The sheriff also said Utz has a long incarceration history.