Two men arrested in the meth-making operation that fueled a deadly fire last week in Goose Creek have partnered in drug labs before and were both on probation that required random testing, according to records.
Shonni Segrest Abernathy, 39, was captured late Tuesday before he could attend the funeral today for his 19-year-old daughter, who was killed in the blaze May 31 at the Pine Harbour apartments.
Abernathy, who told officials that he was left homeless after the fire at his home, and 33-year-old Jerald Edward McCabe of Old Highway 6 in Cross face a charge of attempting to manufacture methamphetamine and two counts of exposing a child to meth-manufacturing materials.
The men were arrested together in July 2009 after a deputy spotted them emerging from the woods off Farrell Street near Moncks Corner. They dropped an Igloo cooler and ran but were later caught.
The cooler contained liquids used to make meth, including muratic acid, according to an affidavit. But both told investigators that another man owned the lab and concocted the drugs.
Abernathy’s most recent arrest came in December, when he told deputies that he knew the location of a meth lab. In exchange for his freedom, he offered to arrange a sting operation to expose the lab. Authorities declined.
From the charred rubble at 5000 Harbour Lake Drive, investigators removed evidence of an active meth lab. But the men have not been charged in connection with the blaze, whose cause hasn’t been determined.
Abernathy’s daughter, Morgan Abernathy, and the cousin she was babysitting, 4-year-old Sammy Garbe, died in the fire. A resident of a neighboring unit, 69-year-old military veteran Joseph Raeth, also was killed. Relatives of Raeth’s also mourned his death during a funeral Wednesday morning.
Dan Moon, a spokesman for the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, said additional charges against the duo were possible. He couldn’t say whether they were probable.
“When you do something dangerous, bad things can happen,” Moon said. “But (the lab and the fire) haven’t been linked yet.”
Abernathy and McCabe have long histories of crime and drugs, and were on probation, according to state records.
McCabe, who also is a father, has been arrested more than a half-dozen times since 1997 on charges that included marijuana and cocaine possession, burglary, grand larceny and resisting arrest, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Abernathy’s arrest history dates to 1993, SLED records indicate. He has convictions for second-degree burglary, crack cocaine possession, driving under suspension, receiving stolen goods, check fraud and simple assault, state records show.
Charleston County sheriff’s deputies arrested Abernathy in March 2005 after he showed up at the Charleston Air Force Base with crack cocaine in his car, according to an incident report. A booking report in that case states that Abernathy was born in Louisiana and worked in the construction industry.
He also is awaiting trial on drug and attempted larceny charges in Dorchester County. In December, deputies were called after Pruitt Street landowners reportedly caught Abernathy and another man trying to steal a refrigerator and other items from a home.
The residents held the pair at gunpoint until authorities arrived.
Abernathy told the deputies he would lead them to a nearby meth lab and make a drug buy for them if they let him go, a report stated. The deputies arrested Abernathy in spite of the confession. They also found meth in the Hyundai he was driving, according to the report.
The meth lab’s location wasn’t divulged in the report.
Following that incident, Abernathy was released from jail in late April and was told to undergo random drug testing as a condition of his probation. He also was ordered to seek treatment, if needed, according to Peter O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
Abernathy would have been subjected to checks of his residence. O’Boyle said he did not know whether that occurred.
On Facebook, Abernathy has been pictured wearing a full protective lab suit and a gas mask as he stands in front of large, metal canisters. In a caption to that photo, he writes of casting aside a bottle for a bucket and “puttin it together big boy style.”
The post does not specifically mention drug activity. Small-scale operators often mix up meth in a single, 2-liter soda bottle.
Also on his Facebook page, Abernathy posted photos of “drunk” times, fishing trips and his family, including his daughter. One photo of Morgan is captioned: “CAN I MAKE THEM OR WHAT.”
It was on Facebook where he expressed his grief Saturday.
“Missing u soooo much,” he wrote of his daughter. “I love u with all my heart. I wish to god i could trade places with u.”
Berkeley County authorities today also released recordings of 911 calls from the fire. The tapes include dozens of calls from worried tenants and passersby, many frantic about the fast-growing blaze and fearful that people are still trapped inside the building.
“Oh my God,” one woman screams as she watches the flames chew through the roofline. “It’s all over the top of the building.”
“Just make sure everyone is getting out of the building,” the dispatcher tells her. “Don’t let anyone back in there.”
In the background, people scream and wail.
“Where is the fire department at?” the caller pleads.
“They’re coming ma’am,” the dispatcher says,
“Tell them to hurry,” the caller replies.
Callers describe heavy flames and report that a woman is seen jumping from a window to safety. Another is fearful that her neighbor is still trapped inside. Still another caller reports that a man appears to have a broken leg after leaping from the building.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.