Brandon Township man severely burned after distilling drugs

By Susan Bromley
Staff Writer

Brandon Twp.- An explosion and resulting fire and severe burns to a township man last month was caused by his attempt to extract hash oil using butane.

“This is extremely dangerous for the person doing it, the home and the community,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “He obviously knows that now having received traumatic burns in the process to distill. I don’t know the percentage of burns he received, but it was a huge amount— it exploded directly into him.”

Township firefighters, deputies and the HAZMAT team responded to a mobile home in the 3800 block of Red Bud Lane after an explosion and fire that occurred at about 11:09 p.m, March 9. Upon arrival, the trailer was empty, the sole occupant, a 22-year-old man, having departed the scene.

“His mom picked him up and took him to urgent care, but the burns were severe enough they wouldn’t accept him,” said Lt. Brent Miles of the OCSO Narcotics Enforcement Team. “Detectives tracked him down to Hurley Hospital in Flint.”

The man was hospitalized for at least three days with burns to his face, arms and hands.
Miles said approximately two pounds of marijuana was found at the residence, along with eight 10-ounce cans full of butane fuel and 37 empty cans.

“He opened can after can and when he went to light it, there was an accumulation of fumes and it exploded,” said Miles. “We are still waiting on the lab to finish analyzing evidence.”

Hash oil extraction is done through a forced process using butane, said Bouchard. The intent is to distill tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the potent component of the marijuana plant. The result is a concentrated paste or oil that can be put in food or applied medicinally. The suspect in this case does not have a medical marijuana card.

Extraction of hash oil has resulted in dramatic spikes in explosions across the country, Bouchard said, although the county has not yet seen a huge uptick.

“This process and risk has always been there, but with the acceptability and availability of marijuana and people experimenting, it has gone up significantly,” he said. “Medical marijuana is part of the reason there is more, people are using and consuming, some for medicinal purposes and some obviously trying to do different things with it… Many do not realize that the process may appear simple, but is actually very sophisticated as well as dangerous and may result in a flash fire that can blow out doors, windows, burn your house down, and cause severe injury.”

Hash oil extraction is different than the process for cooking methamphetamines, but both have the explosive potential to take lives.

In Oakland County, the biggest drug problems are heroin and cocaine, continued Bouchard, although they aren’t processed in an explosive fashion.

“We are constantly, daily, engaged in the battle against these drugs,” said Bouchard. “We can’t arrest our way out of problems. We work with education, treatment, and courts. The enforcement arm is working to make it not accessible. We have to up the ante— drugs are destroying lives and killing people in large numbers.”

The Red Bud Lane explosion is still under investigation by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Narcotic Enforcement Team and charges will be submitted to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office when the investigation is complete.

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