HMN-Magic Valley reports that a man found with a gas canister, later identified as nitrogen, appears to be a suicide. A regional HAZMAT team along with the 101st CST helped identify the gas canister.
DIETRICH — All eight people hospitalized for possible hazmat exposure Thursday have been released, Lincoln County Sheriff Rene Rodriguez said Friday.
Seven first responders and one civilian were taken to St. Luke’s Magic Valley and North Canyon Medical Center after police responded to a report of an unresponsive man in a Dietrich home Thursday morning. They found the man dead alongside a canister of an unknown gas, later identified as nitrogen.
Rodriguez told the Times-News that the incident appears to be a suicide at this point, though law enforcement treats any unattended death as a homicide until it’s determined not to be.
“We won’t call it a suicide until we’re completely done with the investigation,” Rodriguez said, noting that the cause of death was gas inhalation.
Deitrich Mayor Don Heiken said he fired the man, 62-year-old Tom Young, earlier this month. Heiken says there’s concern Young contaminated the drinking water well serving the community of 300.
The 101st Civil Support Team and the Regional Hazmat Team identified the gas found with the man as nitrogen late Thursday evening, the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that night.
Nitrogen is common in the atmosphere, but too much can reduce oxygen levels.
“We walked into almost a literal gas chamber,” Rodriguez said. “It just exemplifies the risks that law enforcement and first responders face every day when we’re responding to calls of unknown natures.”
Rodriguez was among the eight people hospitalized, along with two Lincoln County deputies. Others taken to the hospital included Shoshone police officers and EMTs, Rodriguez said.
“Some of the exposure was minimal, other exposure was pretty severe,” Rodriguez said, adding, “I had a couple guys who were down like flies.” Rodriguez said he himself didn’t notice his symptoms until several hours after the initial exposure.
He was unable to say Friday afternoon whether the civilian taken to the hospital was the person who reported the death, who was still on the scene when first responders arrived.The Associated Press reported Young was fired May 9 from his city post following an altercation at City Hall that involved police. Heiken declined to elaborate on the incident.
Court records say Young had been charged with felony robbery and misdemeanor counts of battery and intentional destruction of property. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $600 bond.
“When I talked to him after this altercation at City Hall, he said, ‘Well, I guess I don’t have a job,’” Heiken said. “And I said, ‘No you don’t.’ And that’s kind of how that happened.”
Young had been scheduled to appear in court on the same day he was found dead.
Five people were taken to St. Luke’s Magic Valley and three to North Canyon Medical Center, which was temporarily put on lockdown. All eight were released later that evening, Rodriguez said in a Facebook post on the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office page late Thursday night.
“Good evening friends and neighbors.
Today, Chief Smith from SPD, myself and numerous other officers and deputies responded to an unfortunate death call outside the City of Dietrich.
During the call, seven first responders and one civilian were taken to the hospital due to exposure to a then-unknown chemical.
All eight of us have been released from the hospital and we’re home recovering.