The meth lab could be accessed through a culvert near the parking lot, police tell PEOPLE

By Harriet Sokmensuer
Updated August 11, 2016 10:45 AM
Advertisement
willy-wonka-1
Credit: YouTube

Authorities say they are investigating an underground meth lab that was “stumbled upon” earlier this week beneath a Wal-Mart parking lot in western New York, PEOPLE confirms.

Police discovered the lab while conducting a separate investigation of the area, in a culvert near the parking lot of an Amherst Wal-Mart on Monday afternoon, Amherst police detective Lt. JoAnn DiNoto tells PEOPLE. (Other businesses share the Wal-Mart parking lot, DiNoto says.)

DiNoto calls the lab’s discovery “strange” since the town does not deal with many meth-related crimes.

“[Meth] is becoming more common but certainly not commonplace,” she says.

Soon after the discovery, members of the New York State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Evidence Recovery Team, which deals with meth labs and dangerous chemical situations, arrived at the scene, DiNoto says.

The parking lot was not evacuated during the search – the area was not believed to be dangerous, DiNoto tells PEOPLE. She says the lab was small and included a pair of goggles and a makeshift table made out of a piece of wood on an old tire.

Investigators wore Hazmat suits as they cleared evidence, including spray cans and various chemicals believed to be methamphetamine, from the underground lab, DiNoto says.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

“I’m sure the public is envisioning a big lab with [rooms] but it’s none of that,” DiNoto tells PEOPLE. “It’s very small.”

Officials do not know when the lab was last used or how often, DiNoto says. However, they do believe the suspects entered the underground lab through the culvert, which opens up behind the Wal-Mart.

There are no known suspects at this time, DiNoto says, but officials are hoping to identify the lab operators using Wal-Mart surveillance footage.

“We were shocked when we found out about this,” Erica Jones, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, tells PEOPLE in a statement. “It’s upsetting and unacceptable. We’re glad the police have responded and we’ll continue to help them with their investigation. Anyone who has information that can help should reach out to police.”

Lt. DiNoto believes the suspects are local teenagers who are familiar with the culvert and its surrounding wooded area, calling it their “stomping ground.”

“It was definitely someone who knew [the culvert] was there and played in it a million times,” DiNoto says. “And one day was like, ‘Oh this would be a nice private place to do our business without being discovered.’ “