Investigation continues on unidentified body in suspected Four Oaks meth lab explosion

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2013 

— Investigators have not identified the person whose body was found in a barn that exploded just east of town Saturday morning, but family members say it was not the woman who has been renting the home that sits a few yards in front of it.

Investigators with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office say that after the fire was extinguished, they found what appeared to be materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine in the barn. The sheriff’s office contacted the State Bureau of Investigation for a “clandestine laboratory cleanup.”

“The investigation is ongoing at this point, and the cause of the fire has not been determined,” said SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley. “In other words, we cannot definitely say that the suspected meth lab caused the fire.”

Firefighters with the Four Oaks Volunteer Fire Department were called to the 4600 block of U.S. 301 South shortly after 9 a.m. and found the white barn behind the one-story, red-brick home engulfed in flames, said Johnston County sheriff’s spokeswoman Tammy Amaon.

Firefighters pulled a body out of the burning building. Investigators transported the victim to the state medical examiner’s office in Raleigh, where they hope to learn his or her identity, Amaon said.

The home was formerly owned by Edward Earl “Little Man” Massengill, who died in 2006.

A neighbor, Jeffery Levi Lawrence, said Massengill left the property to his family. The property is currently owned by Brittney Leigh Massengill and was rented by Melissa Thornton Tart, according to an incident report filed at the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office.

Massengill and Tart could not be reached Monday, but Tart’s mother, Patricia Thornton, 58, of Benson, said Massengill and her daughter are both “fine.”

Thornton said she wasn’t sure if her daughter, who has been living at the home for a least two years, was at home at the time of the explosion.

“She was taken to the sheriff’s department,” Thornton said.

Amaon, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, could not confirm Monday if Tart had talked with sheriff’s investigators.

SBI agents had left the barn by early Monday afternoon. Fire had nearly destroyed the white structure, leaving only a small section of the building, including the front door and a window frame, intact.

Amaon said investigators expect to receive confirmation of the victim’s identity and cause of death from the state medical examiner’s office by Wednesday. She also noted that it is standard procedure for members of the SBI’s Clandestine Laboratory Response Team to investigate suspected meth labs in North Carolina.

News researcher Peggy Neal and Staff Writer Derek Quizon contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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