Last Updated: 9:17 p.m.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly was part of what he described as a “high-risk” warrant search that included a SWAT operation in the Mondex, or Daytona North, this morning, and that uncovered an apparent methamphetamine lab on a sprawling, 2.5-acre property.
The search was conducted at 2345 Blueberry Street, netting the arrest of five people–six, including one who happened by the scene and was arrested on an unrelated issue. Authorities discovered an elaborate operation that included a watch tower, trap doors and the use of firearms as deterrent.
“The reason we classified it as a high risk is because we knew the house was full of meth users,” Staly said in an interview this evening, “so they’d be in an altered state of mind. We also knew there were weapons in the house. Through our surveillance we discovered they had a watchtower and would occasionally walk around the property with long rifles, and if they heard a noise they’d start firing guns in the nearby woods. We also knew they had trap doors in the floors in some of the buildings in there where they’d hide when law enforcement would come around. So we knew it was high risk going in.”
Both the Flagler and St. Johns swat teams were activated, both took part in the search. No one was hurt and no guns were fired. Residents did hear what may sounded like a gun. “We did not fire any shots, Staly said. “We did explode a flash bang to disorient two aggressive dogs that were coming at us. The only other alternative was to have shot the dogs.” Deputies did not want to do that.
“I witnessed the entire team but I stayed back to not interfered with the SWAT team that trains and practices every week for this kind of operations,” Staly said. “So I was there right at the property line monitoring everything. Myself and Chief [Paul] Bovino maintained the front perimeter while the SWAT team was actually moving through the back of the property. The deputies did a great job. Both agencies. We were able to secure all the suspects without any problems.”
The suspects are: Gage Ryan Watts, 23, of 2026 Hickory Street in Bunnell, who was charged with methamphetamine sale, a second-degree felony; Amanda Parker, 29, of 2345 Blueberry Street charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; Anthony Scott Pezza, 18, same address, same charge; John Driggers of Bunnell, charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; and Kenneth Driggers of Bunnell, same charge plus manufacturing meth.
Charles Cowart, 34, of 11361 County Road 305 in Bunnell, was among the six arrested and mentioned in the sheriff’s release this evening, but Cowart was not actually part of the group in the meth house: he had driven up to the property and essentially inquired about what was going on. Deputies, either recognizing him or running his name through their databases, discovered he had an outstanding warrant, unrelated to the meth house. He was arrested on that, his bond having been revoked on a use of drug paraphernalia charge.
The suspects were generally compliant after they were “overwhelmed” by deputies. “Obviously they were not expecting it, but they were already up, a couple were in the backyard, they had fires and pots going, with some of the material they use to make meth,” Staly said.
The search warrant was the culmination of an undercover operation carried out on June 27 when Watts sold meth to a sheriff’s confidential source. The transaction took place inside the house on Blueberry Street as Watts allegedly sold crystal-like substances to the source for $50. The crystals turned out to be .45 grams of meth.
A search warrant was secured, and today’s extensive search by deputies and other authorities revealed three “shake and bake” meth labs on the property, along with three shotguns, a rifle, and parts of various firearms. Meth labs are extremely dangerous and required the assistance of Flagler County Fire Rescue’s decontamination units to neutralize.
It’s not clear whether drugs were yet recovered, though the warrant service was followed by extensive search operation.
“My understanding is there were approximately nine out-buildings on that property on a 2.5 acre lot,” Cmdr. Bob Weber of the Sheriff’s Office said, “and they’re systematically going through each one of those structures on the property, so they’re going to be out there a while.”
“This was a residence that our District 3 patrol deputies discovered as a possible drug house and they passed along information to our investigators who quickly moved in and gathered enough information for a search warrant,” Staly was quoted as saying in a release issued this evening. “I’m thankful no one was hurt during this operation and that we were able to shut down this meth lab,” said Sheriff Rick Staly. “If you think you can manufacture and sell drugs in Flagler County you’re seriously mistaken, we’re coming after you. I still have plenty of room available at the Green Roof Inn.” Staly is fond of referring to the county jail by the nickname he gave it.
The reason we clasiifed it as a high risk is bec we knew the house was full of meth users, so they;d be in an altered state of mind. We also knew there were weapons in the house. Through our surveilklance wed discovered they had a watchtower and would occasionally walk around the property with long rifl;es, and if they heard a nhoise they’d start firing guns in the nearby eoods. We also knew they had trap doors in the floors in some of the buildings in there wgere they’d hide when law enforcement would come around. So we knew it was high risk going in.”
Both the Flagler and St. Johns swat teams were activated, and the area was divided up for the search.
I was there I witnessed the entire team but I stayed back to not interfered with the SWAT team that trains and practices every week for this kind of operations., so I was there right at trhe property line monitoring everything. Myself and Chief Bovino maintained the frontg poerminter while the SWAT team was actually moving through the back of the property.The deputies did a great job. Both agencies. We were able to securte all the suspects without any [problems.”
We did not fire any shots, we did explode a flash bang to disorient two aggressive dogs that were coming at us. The only other alternative was to have shot the dogs.”
The suspects were generally compoiuant, I think we overwhelmed them coming in,a nd tobviously they were not expecting it, but they were already up, a couple were in the backyard, they had fires and piots going, with some of the material they use to make meth.”
“We recovered materials and I believe that we recovered some meth.”
We used tactical cautions to make sure there wouldn;t be undue explosionst.
A neighbor witnessed many of the proceedings at the property before it was shielded from view. The neighbor was woken up by the sound of helicopters and the sight of deputies in camouflage, who told the person to quickly get back in the house.
“This morning I bet you they had at least a dozen of them down on the ground,” the neighbor said after being asked how many people lived at the property in question, which contains a trailer and the surrounding out-buildings. “So at any given time, who knows, and I did see kids in that mess, too.”
The neighbor was woken up by the commotion around 8 a.m. The neighbor was familiar with previous issues, having been burglarized around the time of Hurricane Matthew. “I was evacuated during Matthew. When I came home, I was cleaned out,” the neighbor said. Some of the stolen items were recovered. The neighbor said today’s was the second warrant service at that property since Hurricane Matthew.
“We’ve been watching this group for a while,” the neighbor said, describing frequent and varied traffic in and out of the property and the found of firearms late at night.
“It appears like they really planned a major drug bust and they’re still active right now,” the neighbor said around 1:30 this afternoon, referring to deputies. But the activity was not visible. “They’ve got shields all the way around that, and a canopy up. The road is not open for anybody going back there.”
The neighbor added: “We’re really impressed with the sheriff’s department taking care of that for us. We’ll do what we can to help them.”
Just after noon today, several Flagler County Fire Rescue units were dispatched to the property on Blueberry Street for decontamination of the property.
Watts was evicted from the property on County Road 305 on March 24 after facing eviction proceedings. He’d failed to pay $1,500 by early February for the trailer he rented there, according to an eviction notice filed in Flagler County court.
He was arrested for drunk driving and fleeing the scene of a crash in which he was involved exactly a year ago, after crashing a Dodge pick-up against a utility pole at 20 Riverina Drive in Palm Coast and fleeing through the property’s backyard. He was quickly apprehended, charged with DUI, hit and run and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage. The latter two charges were dropped in a deal that had him plead guilty to drunk driving. He was sentenced to a year’s probation, starting last October. His arrest today constitutes a violation of probation.
Two years ago with was charged with domestic violence battery after getting in a fight with his brother. The charge was dropped.