Fears fired worker poisoned water
JUST weeks ago, Tom Young was the toast of the town, having received an award in source water protection for the City of Dietrich in the US state of Idaho.
Now Mr Young's name is mud in this tiny settlement of 300 people, thanks to local authorities who have accused him of poisoning the well water they rely on.
The 62-year-old municipal worker was found dead with a gas canister near his body in his ramshackle home last Thursday, days after Dietrich mayor Don Heiken sacked him over an altercation at the city hall that involved police.
Mr Young's death has been ruled a suicide.
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Eight police and emergency services officers, including Lincoln County sheriff Rene Rodriguez, were sent to hospital with suspected nitrogen gas poisoning after they attended the scene.
"For a couple of our guys it was sudden onset, and for me and a couple others it was delayed reaction," Sheriff Rodriguez told local reporters, adding that he was still experiencing headaches.
All those hospitalised were later released. Odourless nitrogen replaces oxygen in the blood, and exposure to high levels of the gas can be fatal.
Mr Young was fired from his city post on May 9 after an altercation at City Hall that involved police.
Court records obtained by The Associated Press say Mr Young had been charged with felony robbery and misdemeanour counts of battery and intentional destruction of property.
He pleaded not guilty and posted a $US600 ($A793) bond but took his own life on May 24, the day he was due back in court.
The following day, authorities put out an alert warning Dietrich residents not to drink the local water supply because there was reason to believe it had been contaminated.
Mr Heiken told local media he was concerned Mr Young had contaminated the well servicing the town's 300 residents in revenge for having been sacked.
"When I talked to him after this altercation at City Hall, he said, 'Well, I guess I don't have a job,'" Mr Heiken told KHQ. "And I said, 'No you don't.' And that's kind of how that happened."
Mr Young's grieving sister Joyce Rawson responded to Sheriff Rodriguez's post about attending her brother's suicide by saying she was sorry his officers got sick but that her family was reeling from the accusations swirling around her brother.
"Rene, we don't know each other but I am Tom's older sister, I am glad to hear that you & all the emergency responders are doing well. My family? Not at all," Ms Rawson wrote.
"What the news media has been putting out there is for the most part speculation & lies."
Mike Brown of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said the first set of water tests found no contamination, the Idaho Statesman reported.
"We surveyed the system and saw nothing out of the ordinary and no evidence of tampering," he said earlier in the day.
He said Mr Young had a large amount of fertiliser in his home and the tests would determine if there was fertiliser or other substances in the water used by residents.
Mr Brown said nitrogen by itself wouldn't harm the city's drinking water. Results of the other tests are expected on Saturday.
Mr Rodriguez said he had interacted with Mr Young through their jobs.
"I never had any issue with Mr Young prior to this call," he said. "We always had a very professional relationship."
It's the second case in recent years that has drawn attention to the tiny farming town located about 200km east of Boise and known for its deeply religious population.
In 2015, three high school football teammates were charged with sodomising a black teenager with a clothes hanger in a locker room.
A sex assault charge against one suspect was later dropped and he was sentenced to probation for felony injury to a child.
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