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.”

Smoke rolling out of the window which was destroyed during the explosion. [Photo by Cyndi Bainbridge-Wainwright soon after the incident.]

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.

Law enforcement at the scene yesterday. [Photo by Mark McKenna]

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.”

Law enforcement and a neighbor at the scene of yesterday’s explosion. [Photo by Marc Davis]

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.

One of the suspects in the home invasion being arrested by a Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputy. [Crop of a photo by Oliver Cory]

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.

 

 

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38 comments

  • Wow their lucky it didn’t blow the place apart.so glad no innocent people were hurt.when are these knuckleheads going to learn

    • Landlords have a right to make profits off dangerous cook operations! Don’t they? I lived in Vacaville for awhile and 2 of my neighbor’s homes exploded within 2 weeks!
      Moved the hell outta there!

  • The more ways we find to make it not-quite-legal, the longer this will continue. Make it completely legal, no idiotic taxes, price falls to the floor, indoor grows go out of business. I don’t even use it and I can see the problem is caused by it being illegal…

    • Can you not see the harm total legality would bring? Childhood use, destructive grows, unregulated processing — we have laws for a reason. The solution to crime is not to make it not a crime, the solution is ENFORCEMENT OF THE LAW. It’s clear that wasn’t happening at these apartments.

      • Even after legalization there are still numerous laws prohibiting using explosive gasses in a residential neighborhood. Also laws prohibiting underage use, and laws controlling where processing can take place. Relax man, times are a changing but they are changing for the better.

      • Have you ever actually BEEN to Humboldt County? Please, be serious.

        • We live in HUMBOLDT!!not all people in HUMBOLDT are bad.And I’m serious Happy peaceful New Year.Dont drink and drive ✌

      • Illegality creates a market for greed which creates criminals that are willing to do anything to make money. I recommend you study the history of prohibition.

      • Child use of drugs is lower in nations that have legalized. Environmental laws are not well enforced but already exist.

      • Errr, I think we already have this situation… Why does everyone have to be fucked-up all the time?

  • So Ms Benson suffered horrible anxiety from her ordeal of illegal involvement in several marijuana growing operations on her property. Seems she should have some consideration of how her neighbors feel with what is going on in their neighorhood. Like that is going to happen…she is just another “me” person. Maybe a nuisance law suit against Ms Benson is in order.

    • I have read that concentrate of cannabis is used for anxiety. Ms Benson should have obtained a good tincture from her tenants. These novice chemists have no regard for their actions. They likely were smoking their bud when they mixed their butane.

    • Or maybe a criminal negligence Lawsuit for Ms Benson and that slumlord in Eureka.

    • Agree. Mark Harris, humboldts finest.

    • That nonsense in the Emerald magazine was a complete joke – Barbara’s anxiety was over whether she’d be sent to prison or not. What I heard was that Gallegos never filed charges – she hired Mark Harris, and all she suffered other than a night in jail was she had to sell her polluting old diesel truck to the cover the attorney’s fees.

  • Alcohol Stills exploding during Prohibition were quite common. This is a similiar issue. Ideally legalization will make home production not profitable. I hope nobody got hurt badly.

  • What part of the ordinance and or state law for new categories of cannabusiness license types would you use to go over to the industrial park and develop spaces to lease out for indoor growing, for safe extraction businesses, for all these activities that are business not residential??

  • Everyone is entitled to the best defense they can afford. To try to tar Mr. Harris with the same brush as his client is quite ignorant.

  • I am not against the weed industry but this is obviously over the line. Get the Feds involved. If she can’t rent to students then to hell with her. Let the Feds confiscate her whole stash of houses. She certainly does not care about her neighbors. Poor poor pitiful me.

  • No way that cop can do a push-up how is he a sheriff?

    • Seriously. In the USMC every marine from PFC to General has to pass a mandatory physical fitness test annually and it’s not easy.

  • If Ms. Benson is buying a multitude of properties, she has to be getting income from somewhere. No one could take a look and see if she’s making any money (besides rent) from these places?

  • She sounds like a slumlord just like the Squires. Both need a room at the Humboldt Hilton

  • A hash lab exploded two blocks from our house, and I thought someone hit our house with a car. The only person injured in the explosion was the lab rat himself, and luckily that the neighbor children were not playing in their back yard at the time, since explosion debris was scattered all over the neighboring back yard.

  • J. Worthingham Fatback

    Barbara Benson? aka ‘Barbie Benson?’ Hugh Hefners ex? The playboy bunny? That might explain the ability to buy several slums, and good attorneys!

  • is she guilty of anything???

    bad reporting is to write “neighbors say” followed by shit talk. how many neighbors? who, specifically? if somebody’s name is being dragged through the public mud, who isnt even suspected of being a criminal in this case, the least bit of decency any reporter can afford the person is the name of their accusers. otherwise this is just a lynch mob hit piece, and fuck you for that.

    • One neighbor, Cyndi Bainbridge-Wainwright, gives a face to the concern of three additional neighbors who contacted me. (This number does not include those who spoke out anonymously on the website.) Remove the anonymous concerns and you still have units owned by Ms. Benson that have been the scene of a hash lab explosion, a home invasion, and small fire in the last two years. Beyond that there was a mass raid in 2011 that resulted in nearly all the residences investigated by law enforcement and owned by Ms. Benson showing evidence of indoor marijuana grows. Either she was singularly unlucky in her tenants or there appears to be a lack of diligence on her part. Sometimes, appearances are deceiving. I would be glad to give Ms. Benson space to respond to her neighbors’ concerns.

    • The Ostrich Hunter

      Nope, fuck Barb Benson.

      She’s a slum lord. Steals deposits of working people, so that she can turn around and fix up apartments for growtrash.

      Dealt with her in the past and glad people aren’t letting her slide on this. That neighborhood is great, but she’s being allowed to ruin it.

      Keep up the good work, Kym.

      • Barb a slum lord. She rents way too high because she knows ppl will pay and grow in them.. when she’s used to that income, its humboldt lifestyle. she didn’t want grows after she got busted, a giant bill to pay taking blame for tenants grows. Then she didnt want the grows but likes getting paid and it her means of survival. She never fixed anything she said she would. She’d randomly show up to see if we were watering her bushes and trees out front… I did but it was never in lease or agreed and I payed for water. And its humboldt. She is 70 and tired of what she does she told me…Then her grandson handyman stole first a bike when we were in the middle of moving.. he was “repairing” garage she claimed they were going to fix for a year, even though he was just taking bong rips with buddy all day… then him and his buddy raided our shit and stole our other bike along with crystals, trinkets and memorabilia, phones, electric equipment and ballasts… they almost fooled us, then admitted they stole it. We contacted Barbara and she first said she believed it then said they wouldn’t do it.. they ended up bringing back a few things, not the bikes though… they waited til we weren’t there to drop it..

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