PRINCETON, N.C. — Three people are in custody after a major methamphetamine lab bust in Johnston County Tuesday night.
Johnston County Sheriff's deputies found the working lab in a barn off Old Rock Quarry Road -- right in the middle of a Princeton neighborhood with children nearby.
"We have come in, dismantled the lab and got it out of the neighborhood," Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said.
Jeff Worley, Patricia Phillips and Tammy Strickland were arrested in connection with the bust and are being held in the Johnston County jail.
Sheriff's deputies said Worley has been on their radar for five years.
The meth lab found at Worley's house marks the first in eastern North Carolina to have charges based on a
new state law
that took effect on Dec. 1 that calls for harsher penalties against makers of meth.
"They would've faced a matter of months previous to the law coming into effect. Now they're facing a serious number of years," SBI agent Duane Deaver said.
The Sheriff's Office confirms Phillips' two children -- an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old -- were living at the home. Because children were in the home, authorities say Worley could be looking at six years in prison.
"It's just a shame children have to be raised in a methamphetamine world and live in the conditions we've seen in this house tonight," Bizzell said.
Worley faces more than a half-dozen charges, including manufacturing of meth, possession of meth and possession of drug paraphernalia.
State Bureau of Investigation agents said the women will face similar charges, but not as many.
Officials said Worley and Phillips live at the residence. Strickland's listed address is in Pikeville.
Authorities also found thousands of dollars in cash, powder cocaine and marijuana when they busted the meth lab.
According to the new law,
a person found guilty of manufacturing meth will be guilty of a Class C felony, up from a Class H felony. A conviction could mean up to 17 1/2 years in prison.
Prosecutors have complained that the previous law wasn't a deterrent because an offender likely only would serve probation on a first offense.
A manufacturer also now could be convicted of second-degree murder if someone overdoses on meth they made. Further, meth manufacturers can receive harsher punishments if the drug was made in the presence of a child, which will be an aggravating factor in sentencing.
The number of meth labs uncovered by authorities in North Carolina -- many in homes where children live -- surpassed 270 as of late November, Cooper said. There were just nine labs found in all of 1999 but the figure mushroomed to 177 last year.