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Mayor feared water poisoning after death of fired worker but first test finds none

Lincoln County Sheriff

Concerns that the former city water system manager for a small southern Idaho town might have contaminated the water system before his death prompted water testing Thursday, according to a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

The former water manager, identified Friday by the Twin Falls Times-News as Tom Young, 62, was found dead at his home with a canister of unknown gas, later identified as nitrogen gas. He was fired earlier this month after an argument at City Hall.

His death was suicide through asphyxiation by nitrogen gas released into the home, Lincoln County Sheriff Rene Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

"For a couple of our guys it was sudden onset, and for me and a couple others it was delayed reaction," Rodriguez told the AP.

Eight people, including seven first responders, were sickened by the gas inside Young's house, and a hazardous materials investigation was started.

The first set of city water tests found no contamination, said Michael Brown, Twin Falls regional engineering manager for Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The results of the other tests are expected Saturday.

Rodriguez said in a Facebook post Thursday night that all of those hospitalized had been released and were home.

"I want to thank everyone who has called, texted, messaged, sent carrier pigeons, etc.," Rodriguez said in the message to the public. "We all appreciate the love and support."

Dietrich Mayor Don Heiken said he had concerns that the water may have been contaminated, Brown said.

The city water system was shut off, and residents were notified of concerns about the water through a reverse 911 call, Brown said.

Heiken did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Dietrich is a town of a few hundred people about 125 miles east of Boise.

"Any time there's any suspicions of that [water contamination], we'd rather be wrong 100 times than right once," Brown said. "We don't think there's an issue, but we're awaiting a confirmation ... It's better to be safe than sorry. That's why we sent our people out last night after hours."

Brown said he was not aware of any threats made by Young, written or verbal, to poison the water system.

Young was charged with robbery, battery and intentional destruction of property, according to the AP. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $600 bond. He was due to appear in court on Thursday.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413

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