BERWICK – Authorities in Columbia County blocked off a residential street as a special operations group from the Attorney General’s office removed equipment and materials from a suspected methamphetamine operation Thursday morning.
Neighbors said that officers and agents surrounded a home on the 400 block of East Sixth Street in Berwick around 10 a.m., broke down the front door, and quickly detained three people for questioning.
Berwick Police Chief Ken Strish said a joint investigation into the suspected meth lab was started because of tips from neighbors, and because two children living in the home were likely exposed to the dangerous operation.
"Based on the investigative information, we thought that there was a good potential for us to catch this while it was actually an active lab. That's why we had all the active precautions,” said Strish. "It's extremely disheartening, and as the chief of this town, you wonder what message you can send to the persons to have them understand that this just can't continue. Unfortunately, drugs are a very powerful thing."
According to court documents, Barry Zwalkuski, 49, was charged with manufacturing and possessing a controlled substance, as well as risking a catastrophe.
Police charged Tracie Jo Zwalkuski, 41, with possession of precursor chemicals and criminal conspiracy.
According to Berwick Police, Barry Zwalkuski admitted that he made meth and gave the drug to Tracie Jo Zwalkuski in exchange for medications she bought that contained pseudoephedrine, which is used in the meth-making process.
The Zwalkuski’s told investigators that they are cousins.
A third person was released after being questioned inside the Berwick Police Department.
Russell Force told Newswatch 16 that he was surprised the drug-making operation was close to his home, which is in a part of the borough where several officers live.
“We have a state police officer that lives at the end of town and another cop, a borough officer, that lives two houses from the house that was just raided,” said Force.
Berwick native Bill Wallace said his hometown has deteriorated since he was a kid and he is frustrated with the frequent discoveries of the dangerous operations.
"I give the cops all the credit in the world for cracking down on all these people. I don't understand as to why they think they can get away with this. I mean come on, it's ridiculous," said Wallace.
Officials said the two children were in school at the time of the raid and they are currently staying with other family members.