A search warrant conducted by the Price County Sheriff's Department May 6 in the Town of Fifield resulted in the discovery of a suspected methamphetamine cooking operation and the subsequent arrest of three individuals.
This is the first time a meth manufacturing operation has been discovered by law enforcement in Price County.
Sheriff’s Department Investigator Robert Hawn reported upon searching the residence of James Kolanowski, evidence suspected to be part of a small-scale meth cooking operation was found. Due to the potential danger posed to law enforcement and neighboring residences, the Park Falls Fire Department and EMS were called in to stand by while the evidence was retrieved from the residence by a contractor with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
The production of meth poses serious risks due to the highly flammable ingredients (which can include paint thinner, drain cleaner, battery acid, or lithium from batteries) and the toxic and potentially deadly fumes released by mixing the chemicals together.
In this case, the evidence found suggests meth was being created using what is known as the one-pot method, where small amounts of meth are processed in soda bottles in a short amount of time, after which the materials are destroyed. Hawn noted this makes it particularly difficult for law enforcement to find these types of operations.
The materials found at Kolanowski's residence were seized and will be tested by the state crime laboratory to legally confirm they were being used in the production of methamphetamine.
Following the search of Kolanowski's residence, law enforcement learned that some of the cooking material might be found at a residence in the Town of Elk. A subsequent search of the residence, which was occupied by Susan Wildermuth, revealed more equipment and materials suspected of being used to create methamphetamine. These materials will also be sent to the state's crime laboratory for testing.
A small quantity of meth was found and seized in both residences.
Kolanowski was arrested on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine drug paraphernalia, possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine, and possession of waste from manufacturing methamphetamine.
Wildermuth was arrested on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine drug paraphernalia, possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of waste from manufacturing methamphetamine, and purchasing pseudoephedrine products on behalf of another.
Pseudoephedrine, which is found in some cold medications, is used in the production of meth.
A third individual, Kevin Palmer, was arrested on a probation hold and will be referred to the county District Attorney for purchasing pseudoephedrine on behalf of another and possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine.
These are all felony charges.
The investigation into this case, which began in September 2018, is still ongoing. The investigation began following a report that Kolanowski and Wildermuth were reportedly manufacturing methamphetamine, after which law enforcement had to develop enough probable cause to execute a search warrant of the residences, according to Hawn. In April 2019, an interview with an individual revealed they had been purchasing pseudoephedrine on behalf of Kolanowski and Wildermuth in order to manufacture methamphetamine.
Hawn reported that the Sheriff’s Department will continue working to identify purchasers of pseudoephedrine.
While this is the first time law enforcement has found a methamphetamine manufactured in the county, Hawn said evidence found in other investigations indicate that several other small-scale operations exist throughout the area as people can quickly cook meth and then destroy the evidence.
While local law enforcement continue to work to curb the use and sale of meth, Hawn stated he believes it is still spreading throughout the county.
Since Jan. 1, 2019, the Price County Sheriff’s Office has arrested 14 individuals for the possession of methamphetamine and/or distribution of methamphetamine. This does not include arrests made by the Wisconsin State Patrol, Park Falls Police Department, or the Phillips Police Department.
Hawn noted that the number of drug-related arrests made in the county could not be done without the support of Sheriff Brian Schmidt.
“Sheriff Schmidt has a no tolerance policy for the use or distribution of controlled substances and he supports me and my investigations which I believe plays a large role in our success in attempting to deter this epidemic,” Hawn said.
The Price County Sheriff's Department received assistance from numerous agencies in this investigation, including the Phillips Police Department, Park Falls Police Department, Price County District Attorney’s Office, Wisconsin Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigations, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Portage County Sheriff’s Office, Park Falls Fire and Rescue, and Park Falls EMS.
Hawn noted that all people arrested should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.