Staff Photo: Josh Green John Ashline of Summit Construction talks with neighbors at the 1197 Spring Mill Drive property in Lilburn where a former meth lab was demolished Wednesday morning.
LILBURN -- Susan Shenefield's first impulse was to pop champagne. Given the underlying circumstance, she restrained herself.
Fifteen months of frustration dissipated Wednesday for Shenefield and her neighbors as crews demolished a boarded-up, two-story home that greeted each visitor to Lilburn's Spring Mill neighborhood, the kind of place where graduating high school seniors get their own congratulatory banner at the entrance. The kind of place happy to purge the remnants of a methamphetamine laboratory blamed in the deaths of three children.
By noon, all that remained was the home's brick mail box, still bearing an infamous address -- 1197 Spring Mill Drive.
"We're all breathing a sigh of relief," said Shenefield, who headed clean-up efforts since the fatal fire on Feb. 17 last year. "If your community is united in common cause, and is willing to work within the system, good things will happen."
The neighborhood off Five Forks Trickum Road was rocked by a flash fire at the home so powerful it emitted an ear-splitting boom. Authorities said the home played host to a lab run by meth traffickers with ties to drug cartels. They pulled 10 pounds of meth from the "super lab" and nearly $200,000 from its walls.
The physical reminder of those things, having stood on that corner for nearly 30 years, fell into a bulldozer's pile in about two hours.
The home's thick chimney was let down easy, so it wouldn't crash into the Colonial next door. A DEA official oversaw the process, in case other harmful chemical were uncovered, though the charred interior was thoroughly gutted beforehand, said demolition coordinator John Ashline of Summit Construction.
By week's end, the tree-rimmed lot should be clear. The rubble is bound for an Atlanta landfill. An official at lender Fannie Mae, which controls the lot, did not return an inquiry as to what will become of the land.
"It's a beautiful lot," Ashline said. "It'll make a nice place for somebody."
The children's 24-year-old mother, Neibi Brito, remains at the Gwinnett County Jail, along with an alleged accomplice who is her cousin. Both are charged with murder and drug trafficking.
In the days after the fire, strangers built a mound of stuffed animals and flowers as a front-yard tribute to Brito's children -- Stacy Brito, 1, Ivan Guevara, 3, and Isaac Guevara, 4. Those tokens were later channeled to a cooperative ministry, at the request of grandparents.
As months went on, neighbors cut the grass, gathered trash and removed a felled tree from a property they feared was dragging down property values regardless. One neighbor said the home was colonized by feral cats.
Ashline said contractors were aware of the property's history and felt altruistic through demolition.
"Everybody wants to help," he said. "It feels good to finally help them get rid of a bad memory."
Since the fire, federal authorities and local police have followed leads as to the location of ringleader Ivan Gonzalez, who was described as Brito's boyfriend. Charged with murder and trafficking, he fled the scene following the explosion and has avoided capture since.
Developments since the explosion:
• Feb. 17, 2011: Several bins wet with acetone used in the meth "washing" process ignite in a back utility closet at 1197 Spring Mill Drive in Lilburn, triggering a flash fire that allegedly kills three children.
• Feb. 23: Stacy Brito, 1, Ivan Guevara, 3, and Isaac Guevara, 4, are buried in Dalton. Their mother, Neibi Brito, attends the funeral in shackles.
• September: Neibi Brito gives birth in jail. She and a cousin are charged with murder in the children's deaths.
• February: At the tragedy's one-year anniversary, neighbors decry the home's condition and ask that it be fixed or torn down.
• April: A Gwinnett judge fines JP Morgan Chase $9,000 for the home's unsightly condition. The bank, enacting foreclosure proceedings, vows to clean up the property.
• Wednesday: Crews raze the home, with the lot expected to be cleared by week's end.