DARKE COUNTY —The Darke County Sheriff’s Office closed down the Jail Wednesday after the ventilation system was contaminated with methamphetamine powder causing several Deputies and Correction Officers to become ill.
The contamination was as a result of an incident Tuesday when Darke County, Sheriff’s Deputies and Corrections Officers were in the process of booking Stephen A. Garner Jr., 37, into the jail when they were exposed to an unknown white powder, that the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab identified as methamphetamine.
On Wednesday, the Darke County Jail had resumed normal operation after it had been believed to be decontaminated. In the morning hours, air-handling units were turned back on in the affected area of the jail. After several hours of routine operation deputies and corrections officers began to feel ill and experienced abnormal vital signs. Greenville Township Fire and Rescue were called to the jail and five corrections officers were transported by EMS to Wayne Healthcare.
Additional deputies and officers were called in to staff the jail. As crews worked to identify and contain the situation, five additional officers began to exhibit symptoms of contamination and required transportation to Wayne Healthcare.
“It is believed that the methamphetamine was drawn in to a ventilation air handler at the time of the spill,” said Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker. “On the morning of April 18th when the air handler was turned back on it distributed enough methamphetamine throughout the prisoner booking and intake area of the jail to result in a toxic exposure to jail staff. This exposure did not immediately show signs until a few hours after the air handler had been turned on. Because this particular area of the jail is also where the control room is located, the jail had to be shut down. “
“The control room is the location where all mechanical security aspects of the jail are operated. Since this room could no longer function due to contamination, it required that the Darke County Jail be evacuated of all inmates and the jail operation be shut down,” said Whittaker. “Some inmates were scheduled to be released or were released by the judge on an OR bond.”
Approximately 28 inmates were transported to Miami County and Mercer County Jail. The Darke County Clandestine Drug Lab deputies operated the control room while wearing self-contained breathing apparatus until the evacuation was complete. Greenville Township Fire and Rescue remained on the scene to assist during the operation.
“The Darke County Jail structure operates on multiple separate air-handling units. None of the air-handling units in other areas of the jail including inmate wards, 911 dispatch and the road patrol was affected by the contamination. As a result, none of the inmates in the jail was contaminated or complained of illness,” Whittaker said.
The jail operation of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office will remain closed until a private environmental contractor can clean and decontaminate the affected area. The Darke County Sheriff’s Office 911 Communications Center and road patrol remains operational as usual. All Sheriff’s Office numbers remain in service and will be answered as normal.