Alleged pot grower in custody following blaze
ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Police remained on scene following Wednesday's fire, preventing anyone from entering the active crime scene.
Dean Vermeersch, 53, of 233 North Coal St., is in custody after officers charged him with running the hydroponic marijuana operation on the second floor of his home, according to documents filed with the magisterial district judge in Frackville.
Vermeersch's home and an attached home, 231 North Coal St., were destroyed by fire Wednesday morning. The fire spread to 231 Coal St., a three-story home owned by Lamar E. Staller, 44, and his wife, Katrina M., 43. They lived there with their daughter, Becky, 14. The Stallers' six cats died in the blaze. Firefighters said an electrical overload in Vermeersch's home caused the fire.
Borough firefighters discovered the elaborate pot growing operation while battling the fire. Some items found included 75 potted marijuana plants, six air conditions, four 55-gallon drums filled with fertilizer, chemicals, hoses, heat lamps and more; most of which was part of a massive irrigation system.
According to Schuylkill Parcel Locator Online, Vermeersch bought 233 Coal St. from Dale J. Smith for $14,000 on March 30 of this year.
According to the criminal complaint filed yesterday, Vermeersch was charged with three felonies, manufacturing a controlled substance and causing or risking a catastrophe, one count each of possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance; seven misdemeanors, one count each of operation of a drug manufacturing establishment and being a public nuisance; and five counts of possession of a controlled substance; and one summary violation of disorderly conduct.
The preliminary hearing will be held at the office of Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko in Port Carbon. Officials added that the date for Vermeersch's hearing had not been set Thursday.
Bail was set at $50,000 straight cash. Vermeersch, who was unable to post it, remained in Schuylkill County Prison Thursday afternoon.
Schuylkill County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Reiley stated the investigation is still under way.
"I had my doubts there was anybody else involved from the very beginning but, just to make sure, we're going to run down whatever leads we have," added Riley.