Two men charged with a meth-making operation that may have fueled a deadly apartment building fire last week in Goose Creek are “known meth cooks” who have partnered in drug labs before, authorities said.
Both suspects are on probation for meth-related activity, and a probation officer made sure a bond judge who conducted separate hearings for the suspects Wednesday night was aware of the fact.
Magistrate James A. Polk set bails totaling $370,000 each for Shonni Segrest Abernathy, 39, of Red Cypress Drive, Goose Creek, and Jerald Edward McCabe, 33, of Old Highway 6, near Cross. Both are charged with attempting to manufacture meth and two counts each of exposing a child to meth-manufacturing materials, plus probation violations.
While investigators maintain that Abernathy and McCabe were brewing highly volatile meth in the hours before the fire, no charges have been made directly related to blaze.
Three people, including Abernathy’s 19-year-old daughter, died in the May 31 fire at Pine Harbour apartments. The fire, which began about noon and which some residents said was preceded by a loud “pop” or explosion, gutted a 16-apartment building.
The bodies of Abernathy’s daughter, Morgan Abernathy, and the cousin she was babysitting, 4-year-old Sammy Garbe, were found later in the ruins. Located in the charred rubble of a neighboring unit were the remains of 69-year-old military veteran Joseph Raeth.
Also found, authorities said, was evidence of an active meth lab.
Chemicals foundWarrants served Wednesday state that Abernathy and McCabe “were known meth cooks and were making meth throughout the early morning hours” of May 31. Investigators recovered camp fuel, muriatic acid, lithium, sodium hydroxide, cans, glassware and tubing “consistent with a clandestine meth laboratory from inside apartment D-80,” the warrants said.
Raeth’s relatives mourned his death at a Wednesday morning funeral. The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office said Abernathy was captured late Tuesday, before he could attend the Wednesday funeral of his daughter.
McCabe’s brother, who did not give his name, attended the bail hearings but did not speak. No representatives of the fire victims attended.
Sheriff’s spokesman Dan Moon said deputies have not directly linked the meth lab to the fire.
A letter that Agent Vincent Howard, of the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, sent to Polk states that, while on probation, Abernathy and McCabe were “in violation of federal and state laws and were involved with a fire that resulted in deaths.”
Howard and sheriff’s detective J.T. Potteiger asked for substantial bails.
Potteiger called the suspects flight risks and threats to the community.
Lengthy arrest recordsAbernathy and McCabe have long histories of crime and drugs, according to state records. They were arrested together in July 2009 after a deputy spotted them emerging from the woods off Farrell Street near Moncks Corner. They dropped a cooler and ran but were later caught.
The cooler contained liquids used to make meth, including muriatic acid, according to an affidavit. Both men 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.
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 deputies that 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, despite his offer. They also found meth in the car he was driving, according to the report.
The meth lab’s location wasn’t divulged in the report.
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 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.
Frantic 911 callsOn 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 on Wednesday 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 roof-line. “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.
Shonni Segrest Abernathy, charged with attempting to make methamphetamine as authorities investigated last week's fatal Goose Creek apartment fire, appeared for a bond hearing at Berkeley County's Hill Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner on Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)×
Jerald Edward McCabe, charged with attempting to make methamphetamine as authorities investigated last week's fatal Goose Creek apartment fire, appeared for a bond hearing at Berkeley County's Hill Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner on Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)×
The remains of an apartment building at Pine Harbor/Pinebrook Point apartments that fire ravaged Thursday. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) 6/1/12×
Jerald Edward McCabe, charged with attempting to make methamphetamine as authorities investigated last week's fatal Goose Creek apartment fire, appeared for a bond hearing at Berkeley County's Hill Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner on Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com) McCabe's brother, in the blue shirt. attended the hearing.×
Shonni Segrest Abernathy, charged with attempting to make methamphetamine as authorities investigated last week's fatal Goose Creek apartment fire, wipes his face as he appeared for a bond hearing at Berkeley County's Hill Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner on Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)×