Overbrook The Osage County sheriff says two deputies probably used poor judgment when they fired high-powered rifles at propane tanks containing anhydrous ammonia last weekend.
Osage County deputies on Saturday responded to a report of three abandoned tanks in a ditch along a rural road north of Overbrook. Sheriff Ken Lippert said the tanks, which had once contained propane, had been refilled with anhydrous ammonia.
Anhydrous ammonia, a colorless gas, is a fertilizer that also is used to produce the drug methamphetamine.
Lippert said the deputies knew the tanks contained anhydrous ammonia because some of the pungent gas was seeping out and the brass valves on the tank had corroded.
The sheriff said the deputies fired rifles at the tanks to render them useless.
"It was probably poor judgment," Lippert said Monday. "They don't have to be disciplined. They already know they screwed up."
The shooting alarmed residents, many of whom drove to the scene to see what was happening.
"What dummy would shoot into propane?" said a resident who didn't wish to be identified. "They're lucky there wasn't any propane left in there. If it had been, there'd be two dead deputies."
Lippert said deputies have fired at tanks in the past, but Saturday's incident was the first time he was told about such actions
He also said a narcotics investigator in his department said a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent informed him some time ago that shooting the tanks was an acceptable way to render the tanks useless.
But a DEA spokesman was taken aback Monday by that assertion.
"I just can't believe that one of our guys told him to do that," said Shirley Armstead, a DEA spokeswoman based in St. Louis. "That's beyond me."
Armstead said when DEA agents raid a meth lab, they hire a hazardous materials team to clean up the site.
After the deputies fired on the tanks, the tanks were taken to a local landfill for disposal. In the future, Lippert said deputies may take the tanks to the landfill before shooting them.
"I doubt if they'll do it in public again," he said.