Landlord of Alleged Hash Lab That Exploded Yesterday Tied to Multiple ‘Scary’ Residences, Claim Neighbors
“[It] started with a rumbling that made us think earthquake, then the explosion …rocked our whole house,” described a neighbor of yesterday’s alleged hash lab explosion. Cyndi Bainbridge-Wainwright wrote that after the incident “the stench of marijuana [was] unreal.”According to Bainbridge-Wainwright, the explosion blew the window completely out of the residence in the triplex next door to them on Ocean Drive in McKinleyville. After it happened, she and her husband went into the backyard. “We could hear [the neighbors] screaming.”
She ran back to the house, grabbed her phone and called 911. “When I was standing in the front,” Bainbridge-Wainwright said, “a guy who was burned pretty good along with another guy came out from the front of the triplex.” The burn victim’s shirt was almost totally destroyed, she explained. “The only thing was left from the back was his sleeves and his neck collar,” she told us. “His face was burned.” The two men drove off.
(According to Lt. Ken Swithenbank of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, neither of the two men have been located as of this morning.)
“Thankfully, there is no apparent damage to our house,” Bainbridge-Wainwright said. Debris from the explosion landed on top of her home. The window hit the fence between her home and the triplex. “One of the guys we spoke to said we’re lucky that when [the explosion] blew out the window that it did not come over to our place,” she said.She said that the 13 residences near hers that are owned by the same person, Barbara Benson, have “been problem units for many years.” Several neighbors also contacted us saying that the units have “been an issue for a long time.”
Bainbridge-Wainwright said that she and her husband have contacted Benson several times over the years. “Any time we go to the owner with any kind of issue it is just kind of brushed off,” she explained.
She said it was obvious the homes were used as marijuana grow sites for years. “You hear the industrial fans going all the time,” she explained. “There is a big tenant turnover.” For while, she said, “the stench of marijuana was so bad, it was hard to stay at our house.” Though in recent years the smell isn’t so bad, she said.
In addition, Bainbridge-Wainwright and several of her neighbors told us that the units had been raided in 2011 after residents were connected by law enforcement to large grow operation in the Dinsmore area. According to an article in the Times Standard on December 20, 2011, when investigators arrived on site, they reported smelling the “overwhelming odor of growing marijuana emitting from the entire area of the apartment complex.”According to a press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, warrants for the places were issued and 12 of the 13 properties “contained evidence of a functional indoor marijuana growing operation.” Barbara Alice Benson born in 1945, the owner, was one of those arrested and booked into the Humboldt County Jail.
She later recounted her experiences to the Emerald Magazine. According to the article,
She incurred $30,000 in legal expenses, was charged with conspiracy, selling, hash-making (a completely fabricated story built upon one small length of PVC pipe, a fairly typical item for a homeowner to have) and spent some time in a cold jail cell, where her arthritis flared up. She suffered horrible anxiety and developed an irregular heartbeat that has since gotten back to normal. Barbara credits the talented attorney Mark Harris* with extracting her from that nightmare. The tenants were guilty only of misdemeanors, being state legal.
According to neighbors, there have been other problems associated with the property. In 2015, armed robbers invaded a home on Ocean Drive also owned by Benson.
Just this summer there was a small fire in one of the unit’s backyard.
A number of neighbors who spoke on condition of anonymity described a deterioration in their community over the time Benson owned the properties. They described college students and young families as being the renters earlier but now they say the properties are occupied by people who keep their shades drawn, play loud music, have industrial strength fans, orange-colored industrial grow type lights, and “pretty much stay to themselves.” Several worry that there could be more hash labs and possibly other explosions.
Barbara Benson has a McKinleyville phone number but an effort to get her response prior to this article being published was unsuccessful.
Cyndi Bainbridge-Wainwright hopes that some good will come from this recent explosion. Living next to this complex has been “scary,” she said. “Maybe something will be done now.”
*Note: Mark Harris is also this reporter’s personal attorney and has an ad on Redheaded Blackbelt.
Press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:
On Monday, December 26, 2016 at approximately 3:30 p.m. Humboldt County Deputy Sheriffs along with Arcata Fire responded to a triplex residence on the 1800 block of Ocean Drive in McKinleyville for a report of an explosion. Upon arrival deputies received information that a 24 year old male was reported to have received severe burns from the explosion and was transported away from the scene by a private party prior to law enforcements arrival. Deputies initiated immediate evacuation procedures of the surrounding buildings. Arcata Fire determined a Butane Honey Oil (BHO) lab was the cause of the explosion. The Humboldt County Drug Enforcement Unit responded and a search warrant was obtained for the residence.
Law enforcement contacted local hospitals and were unable to locate the 24 year old male burn victim. This case is currently being investigated by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Humboldt County Drug Enforcement Unit.
Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.