2 face federal charges for meth lab found after huge apartment fire

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Two Goose Creek men have been federally indicted for manufacturing meth and exposing others to serious harm, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.At a press conference held Tuesday morning, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles announced that the federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment against Shonni Abernathy and Jerald McCabe.Both of them were charged with conspiring to manufacture meth, creating a substantial risk of harm to human life while manufacturing meth and manufacturing meth in a place where children reside.If convicted, both men could face a maximum of life in prison, a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10 million.The charges come after the fire on May 31 at Pine Harbor Apartments in Goose Creek which resulted in three deaths. Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said the three victims were identified as 69-year-old Joseph Raeth, 4-year-old Samuel Garbe and 19-year-old Morgan Abernathy. The investigation of the fire also led authorities to the discovery of a meth lab.

Sixteen units were burned and about 46 people were left without a place to live, according to American Red Cross officials. Witnesses said flames as high as 40 or 50 feet flicked the sky, and smoke could be seen from miles across town.Agencies taking part in the investigation include the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

None of the agencies involved have confirmed if the meth lab discovered was the cause of the massive apartment fire. However, as law enforcement officers testified in front of Congress Tuesday about the meth "epidemic" on Tuesday, it was learned SLED investigators believe the lab was at least a contributor to the massive blaze.

"Although the manufacturing of meth cannot be exclusively proven to be the cause of the fire, it appears based upon{}information present at the scene that it most certainly may have contributed to the spread of the fire," SLED's Max Dorsey told Congress.

"During this manufacturing process, something went wrong and a fire ensued, causing the destruction of 16 apartment units in the complex and the death of three innocent victims. This is the reality."

Watch Dorsey's entire testimony below. Read it. Click here.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said that state charges were filed as soon as possible, and they were prepared to go forward. But, working with the U.S. Attorney, state attorneys realized the best opportunity for the best sentence would be in federal court.

Wilson also said that a lot of times the federal authorities have tools her office doesn't have, including the federal grand jury. She also said they would go to trial quicker than with the state.

According to Wilson, Peter Phillips with U.S. Attorney's Office will be prosecuting the case.{}

Phillips told a room full of media that it's limited in what prosecutors can say right now. He said that the deaths may be part of the investigation, but he can't say whether indictments will come out of that.

The case could go to trial within the next year according to the assistant U.S. attorney, and Wilson said they are still pursuing the other two named suspects -- Michael Still and Alberta Pierson.

Berkeley Sheriff Wayne DeWitt took the podium next and said "This has been one of the most tragic events to occur in Goose Creek."

DeWitt said a lot of hours were put into this investigation, and it was collaborative team effort. He also said that according to his research, this is the first time a death has occurred from manufacturing meth in the county.

"Methamphetamine is not only dangerous to use, it can be deadly to produce," said Harry S. Sommers, the DEA special agent in charge of the Atlanta Field Division. "It harms not only the addict, but devastates those who are around it. This case is an example of what we all too frequently see with methamphetamine -- destroyed families and communities with shattered lives."

"The investigation continues," U.S. Attorney Nettles said. "The circumstances surrounding this case are tragic, and the Goose Creek community needs to know that this case is a priority for each of the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies involved."

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off