Alleged meth manufacturer to face grand jury

NEW CUMBERLAND – The case of a Chester man who allegedly operated a methamphetamine lab will eventually go to the Hancock County grand jury.

On Friday, Hancock County Magistrate Michael Powell found there was probable cause to believe that Eric J. Ulbrich, 40, of 300 Arner Road, Chester, had operated a meth lab, meaning his case will be bound over to the 1st Judicial Circuit Court in Hancock County. The next grand jury meets in September.

Ulbrich was arrested by Hancock County sheriff’s deputies on April 15 on a felony charge of operating or attempting to operate a clandestine drug laboratory. Officers went to Ulbrich’s rural home with a search warrant and found “several items indicative of methamphetamine production and the operation of a clandestine drug laboratory,” Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said.

Although Ulbrich said he had thrown everything away, officers searching the property found “adulterated lithium battery ribbons, battery package containers, a chemical mask insert, as well as three bottles (that) appeared to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines,” said a complaint filed in Hancock County Magistrate Court.

West Virginia State Police officers were called to identify the items, which were collected and photographed. Samples from the three bottles were sent to the State Police Forensic Laboratory for testing, and the results are pending.

Ulbrich is being held in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville on a $50,000 bond.

Testifying Friday in a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause were sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Connors, of the Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force, and Sgt. Richard Gibson, a clandestine lab technician with the West Virginia State Police.

Gibson, in response to questioning from Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis, testified that Ulbrich’s was a simple operation that relied on the “shake and bake” method of cooking meth. Such a method involves the use of Sudafed, water and lithium battery strips, he said.

Sudafed, a brand name for pseudoephedrine, is a necessary ingredient, while water serves as a solvent and lithium generates a chemical reaction, Gibson said.

“It’s possible to cook meth (with those ingredients),” he said. “There are as many kinds of meth as you can imagine. There are innumerable ways to make less pure meth.”

Among the bottles found on the property were a glass bottle with a tube inserted in it, a burnt pop bottle and a Nestea bottle containing a blue substance, Gibson said.

Davis asked about the blue substance, referencing the 1969 pop song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and the popular TV series “Breaking Bad.”

“I have never seen ‘Breaking Bad,'” Gibson said.

Davis asked Gibson if he drew any conclusions from the evidence he gathered on the day Ulbrich was arrested.

“There either had been a meth lab there, or someone had attempted to cook meth,” Gibson said.

Ulbrich’s attorney, Weirton public defender Samuel Stillwell, questioned Gibson about the fact that the bottles had been found away from the house and “over the hill.”

Gibson said the bottles were still on the property and close enough to the house to make “certain conclusions.”

“There’s no evidence whatsoever of the operation of a clandestine drug lab,” Stillwell said, noting that the items necessary for a meth lab are common, household items.

Davis countered, “We have everything necessary for a meth lab except the medication (Sudafed), and he’s acknowledged that he had it there.”

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)