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Roger Johnson for The Republic Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department Deputy Matt Bush, at right, searches the belongings of David Fleenor. Fleenor, 40, of Columbus was arrested Thursday afternoon on felony charges after allegedly throwing the contents of a meth lab into Haw Creek and fleeing from deputies.
Two Bartholomew County deputies were rushed to a medical facility Thursday afternoon after wading through hazardous chemicals dropped into a creek during pursuit of a suspect believed to be manufacturing methamphetamine.
Deputies Klint Brown and Matt Bush complained of upper-respiratory problems after the chase, which began near a bridge crossing Haw Creek east of Clifford, said Major Todd Noblitt, spokesman for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.
Noblitt said both officers had been dispatched to the area of County Road 600N and County Road 475E at 3 p.m. to investigate a complaint of suspicious activity.
When Brown and Bush were canvassing the area, they spotted a man under a bridge who appeared to be cooking methamphetamine, Noblitt said. When the deputies identified themselves, David Fleenor, 40, of Columbus, was seen throwing what was believed to be a bucket of chemicals into Haw Creek before jumping into the water himself, Noblitt said.
The two officers chased Fleenor into the creek, where Brown caught the suspect. Noblitt said all three men waded through the chemicals that had been dumped in the water moments earlier.
Both a Columbus Fire Department hazardous materials team and paramedics from Columbus Regional Hospital were called to the scene. Noblitt said health regulations prevented any of the men from being transported until after they underwent an extensive decontamination process.
Noblitt said that as he approached Brown and Bush, he could smell toxic chemicals on them. He described the scent, as well as spilled chemicals on the river bank, as “pretty intense.”
Neither Brown nor Bush are expected to suffer long-term health effects. Shortly after 5 p.m., both deputies were taken to the Workplace and Occupational Wellness clinic on Marr Road as a precautionary measure, according to Noblitt.
After decontamination, Fleenor was taken to the Bartholomew County Jail.
He is being held on preliminary charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, a Class B felony; dumping a controlled substance as waste, a Class D felony; and resisting law enforcement, a Class A misdemeanor.
Noblitt added that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources will be brought in to investigate whether the dumping of the chemicals into Haw Creek might have lasting environmental consequences.
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