A Crossville man who told authorities he was “experimenting” with the making and mixing of chemicals in a residential neighborhood, resulting in the evacuation of residents, has been arrested.

Joining the Crossville Police Department in the investigation into the discovery of chemicals in an apartment building were the Knox County Bomb Squad, ATF, FBI, TBI and Knoxville Fire Department.

Charles Eric Conatser, 34, Harper Lane, is charged with one count of reckless endangerment and could face additional charges once chemicals seized are analyzed by a TBI lab.

Conatser was also cited the next day on a charge of reckless endangerment in a separate incident.

On Nov. 21, Crossville Police responded to an apartment on Harper Lane, located across the street from Cumberland County High School, on a complaint of narcotics being cooked.

According to Lt. Jonathan O’Neal’s report, two persons were found at the residence. Responding officers also discovered a propane tank at the rear of the residence and jars “with unknown liquids and other substances.”

Inside the residence police found “numerous containers with unknown liquids and plastic tubing coming from some of the containers,” O’Neal wrote in his report.

One of the residents of the apartment was located and brought to the scene for questioning. That suspect told police he was experimenting with rocket propellant and with mixing chemicals. He identified one of the substances as white phosphorous submerged in a liquid he had made.

The suspect added that byproducts of the experiments were discarded on the edge of a nearby wooded area.

Police contacted the Crossville Fire Department, due to the nature of the discovery. Investigators observed solvents, acids, peroxide, tubing and unknown mixed chemicals in more than 20 containers. 

Federal and state agencies were contacted for assistance and several agents and investigators arrived at the scene over the next several hours. The area around the residence was cordoned.

Over 30 substances were tested at the scene and seven substances sent to the TBI lab to be identified.

Conatser was arrested and charged with one count of reckless endangerment “for mixing the chemicals that produce harmful gases and byproduct that are harmful to neighbors, as well as leaving white phosphorous unattended in a common area backyard easily accessed by innocent citizens,” O’Neal wrote.

Flammable and volatile substances were taken to a remote location and destroyed and other substances cleaned up by a private contract hazardous materials company.

Investigation is continuing in that incident.

The next day, shortly after 9 p.m., police were dispatched back to the apartment on a report of arguing coming from inside, according to a second report filed by O’Neal.

Officers approached the residence and observed a man in the kitchen, talking to himself, in front of a stove with a glass beaker on a plugged in burner.

Officers made entry into the residence and unplugged the burner. “Chemicals being mixed, byproduct and gas emitted was a danger to neighboring apartments,” O’Neal wrote in his report.

Conatser was issued a citation for reckless endangerment and was offered medical assistance. The offer was declined.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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