The old yellow tape on Hazelwood Road: Meth houses remain long after meth makers leave

Brian Stansberry Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Traveling down Hazelwood Road, northwest of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, leaves fall and crunch under slow moving tires. Yellow and red rain down, refusing to let the notion of Fall leave the mind.

The season seems welcomed by many residents. They dawn seasonal pumpkins, ghouls and warning signs of the faux undead across their lawns.

But to Molly Franklin, as the leaves fall and the bushes die, an affliction that was once hidden by the summer green, is now exposed again by old yellow tape.

Her neighboring home is a quarantined meth lab.

“It was around 10 in the morning when the shouting started,” Franklin said. “I’ve lived here for 28 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The shouting drew her attention to the window where 10 police vehicles surrounded the home beside her. Her neighbors, a man and a woman, were being led to a car in handcuffs. What followed still haunts her to this day.

“The children,” Franklin said. “It was so hard to see…”

Wiping her eyes with shaking hands, she is unable to continue her recollection. But she is reminded everyday of what she witnessed. While the summer months did provide some cover, Fall has exposed the memories of a home and a family she once knew.

“I used to love this season,” Franklin said. “But now it just shows that old yellow tape that won’t let me forget.”

Driving up to the quarantined property would give no indication of an issue. Hazelwood Road offers a depiction of the typical suburban neighborhood. Homes painted in neutral whites and browns. Middle class families looking to achieve the American dream.

But as the home comes more into view, the eye immediately grabs that old yellow tape.

POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS.

Behind that tape sits a two-story home, white with green shutters. Mirroring its neighborhood style, there’s little that stands out. That is, until the old yellow tape.

A grey sedan remains untouched in the driveway. A thick layer of tree sap clouds the windows. The front door of the home bears a large yellow paper explaining the details of the quarantine.

“Sometimes I just want to go rip it [the old yellow tape] down,” Franklin said chuckling. “But I’d probably be joining them [her neighbors] in jail.”

Her assumptions mesh with the current Tennessee law. According to Chris Andel, Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation Remediation Division director, it is illegal to tamper with a quarantined property until it has been decontaminated by a certified contractor.

“To deem a property safe, it must go through the necessary steps before the quarantine can be lifted,” Andel said. “If the steps aren’t followed, no one is getting into that house.”

The steps are as daunting as the old yellow tape. The property owner must contact a certified methamphetamine remediation contractor. The contractor will survey the property and determine the work to be done.

Once a price is agreed on and paid, the contractor’s team enters the property to begin decontamination. After an extensive clean, a hygienist is called to verify that the property is cleaned to standards. If not, the process repeats.

While certified contractors are readily available, there is no requirement to use them. The old yellow tape can stay there forever.

“There are currently no laws that require the owner of a contaminated property to have it cleaned,” Andel said. “No fines or penalties; no incentive to pay for the services.”

Franklin is no stranger to this news. Several calls to city and county officials have left her feeling that the old yellow tape may never come down.

She is left to start the day watching the wind blowing the tape, taunting waves and teasing its existence.

“I guess I’m just left to deal with it,” Franklin said. She jokingly added, “Maybe I’ll add a new color to my house to get some attention away from next door.”

Anything but yellow.