Zachary David Maust, 36, of Berlin, was placed on 60 months probation with nine months on electronic monitor for one count of operating a meth lab at his sentencing earlier this week.
It was a methamphetamine explosion injuring Maust that led state police to his lab in Brothersvalley Township in 2019, according to court documents.
Maust was admitted to UPMC Somerset May 18, 2019, with severe burns to his hands and other body parts. He told medical personnel there that he was attempting to cook meth when it blew up, police said.
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Materials used to make meth include household items such as cold medicine, lighter fluid and batteries. When some of these household items turn up in inappropriate places, such as bathtubs and bedrooms, it can be a clue that illicit drug production is taking place in the home, according to state police.
The items put together to "cook" meth are explosive. Additionally, the person overseeing the process has a tendency to get burnt because of the chemicals used and the "burping" or shaking of the bottles. The strong smell described by law enforcement as numerous cats urinating, is also a telltale sign, police said.
On May 18, 2019, police interviewed Maust in the emergency room. He told police he was attempting to cook the synthetic drug in a hard 18-ounce bottle when it exploded in his father's garage. Police then went to his father's house and found a suspected meth lab and items used in making meth still smoldering from the explosion, according to court documents.
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The state police Clandestine Lab Response Team called to the scene found 97 suspected one-pot vessels along with a large amount of chemicals, some in his bedroom, in a garage, in a shed next to the garage and in a shanty near the garage, according to court documents.
Originally, Maust was charged with 97 counts of operating a meth lab and one count each of risking a catastrophe, possession of a controlled substance, use/possession of drug paraphernalia, possessing phenylpropanolamine or a precursor substance, recklessly endangering another person, knowingly possessing ephedrine and manufacture, delivery or possession with the intent to deliver.
The charges were waived up to court by the defense.
After a plea agreement between the Somerset County District Attorney's office under District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, now heading a department in the state attorney general's office, and his defense attorney, Steve Miller, of Somerset, now retired, he pleaded guilty on one count of operating a meth lab. Public Defender Director Tiffany Stanley took over the defense.
According to acting District Attorney Molly Metzgar, who was not at the helm of the office until 2021 that when she got the case the information only listed one count of operating a meth lab as charged.
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After the preliminary hearing, the district attorney's office fills out a formal document called an "information." The information lists the offenses charged against the defendant. At this stage, the district attorney may add or delete charges or if the district attorney feels that there is not enough evidence to get a conviction, the district attorney may end the prosecution by not filing an information.
According to court documents, 96 charges of operating a meth lab were withdrawn by the district attorney's office.
At his sentencing, Maust was also ordered by Judge Scott Bittner to pay for the cost of prosecution and supervision, a $400 fine and $4,807.94 in restitution.
This article originally appeared on The Daily American: Meth lab: Berlin operator gets probation