Sheriff’s detectives raided a Spokane Valley home child-care center Thursday and arrested its heavily armed owner after finding methamphetamine and a drug lab.
Masked detectives entered the house at 1205 N. Adams Road about 10:30 a.m. and arrested Ronald L. Acre, 41. His wife, Karen, was not there when detectives arrived but was questioned later. She has not been arrested.
Five children between the ages of 2 and 6 were at the state-licensed day-care center when detectives rushed in. The Acres’ 15-year-old daughter and another teenage girl were caring for the children.
Detectives found Ronald Acre in bed, armed with a loaded handgun, a knife and brass knuckles, said Undersheriff Mike Aubrey. Another handgun was found in a night stand next to the bed.
Aubrey said undercover detectives recently had bought methamphetamine from Acre at the house. The drugs apparently were manufactured in the garage next to the house, he said.
A day-care inspector from the state Department of Social and Health Services visited the Acres’ Jack and Jill Day Care in early November, following a complaint about the property’s cleanliness, but found nothing wrong, said Tim Nelson, regional DSHS manager.
Other complaints in the agency’s file on the couple date back to 1991. Nelson said DSHS has investigated allegations that Ronald Acre had been drunk during day-care hours, that he had hit children, that there was a lack of supervision and that too many children were being cared for at the center. But the complaints never were substantiated, Nelson said.
Karen Acre was licensed as the primary care giver and Ronald Acre as an assistant, Nelson said. Their license was up for review in February.
The day-care center, which had been in operation for nearly six years, was shut down Thursday by DSHS after the last of the children had been picked up by their parents.
Parents were shocked and outraged when authorities called to tell them about the drug bust.
“I’m very shook up,” said a sobbing Kim McEwen, as she and her husband, Ben, walked arm and arm up the Acres’ driveway, past a scruffy dog that barked from behind a chainlink fence around the front yard.
Ronald and Karen Acre have cared for the McEwens’ 5-year-old son, Travis, for four years.
They plan to find another day-care provider as soon as possible, but said it would be hard to trust anyone with their son.
“She’s always been really good,” Kim McEwen said. “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
Neighbors, however, were not as surprised by the drug bust. People had been coming and going at all hours for months, they said.
“It was a day care, so you wonder what they were doing at night,” said neighbor Doug Comeau, who has lived across the street from the Acres for two years.
That’s a question neighbor Roger Taylor once asked Ronald Acre.
“He told me, ‘We have a lot of friends,”’ said Taylor.
On another occasion, Taylor said, he walked across the street looking for a volleyball he had lost and was quickly met in the driveway by Acre.
“They didn’t want me to go to the house,” Taylor said. “They met me halfway. The guy was real suspicious.”
Detectives have been building a case against Acre since August. An undercover agent recently bought methamphetamine from him, prompting the search warrant, Aubrey said.
Burners and glass cookware were found in the garage, Aubrey said. Detectives worried the house may have been contaminated by chemicals used to make the drug.
“A lot of times in these drug operations they are pretty careless,” Aubrey said. “Whether the children had access to the area where they were manufactured, I don’t know.”
Members of the Washington State Patrol’s drug team flew in from Yakima late Thursday. They plan to begin taking apart the lab today.
Reserve officers from the sheriff’s department were guarding the house overnight.
The drug lab is the first in the Spokane area found at a day care, Aubrey said. But, he added, children often are caught in the middle of a drug arrests.
“It’s not unusual for people who get involved in stuff like this to put children at risk,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of drug arrest site