Lincoln County Man Rammed Buildings, Shot at Propane Tank Before Committing Suicide

Sheriff says man had ‘mental breakdown’ leading to May 2 manhunt

By Justin Franz
Sheriff's vehicle. Beacon File Photo

A Lincoln County man rammed at least a half-dozen buildings with a 5-ton “military style vehicle” and shot up a 1,000-gallon propane tank before running into the woods and taking his own life on May 2.

Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe said detectives are still trying to figure out what set off the man – identified as 62-year-old Don Smith of the Libby area – but said it was clear he had suffered from an extreme “mental breakdown” prior to the incident.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know what happened to him,” Bowe said.

Bowe said the incident began around 9 a.m. near Happy’s Inn, 40 miles east of Libby, when Smith apparently got behind the wheel of a 5-ton vehicle and started ramming buildings. Bowe said at least six buildings were struck, including one home and a convenience store. Bowe said the convenience store suffered “major structural damage” and the home was “close to completely destroyed.” According to witnesses, Smith also rammed multiple power lines and fired a gun at a 1,000-gallon propane tank, releasing hundreds of gallons of fuel and prompting fears of an explosion.

Smith then abandoned his vehicle and fled into the woods with a gun, prompting a daylong manhunt. The sheriff’s office used a reverse 911 system to warn residents in the area to stay inside and lock their doors during the duration of the search. Bowe said officials believed that Smith would not turn himself in peacefully and deputies were ready for a “battle.”

Officers from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Border Patrol, Montana Highway Patrol and Two Bear Air spent much of the day combing the area along U.S. Highway 2 around Happy’s Inn until Smith’s body was discovered at around 6 p.m. Bowe said Smith had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Bowe said no one else was injured during the incident.

Bowe thanked the first responders who helped handle the incident, including the Libby Fire Department, Libby Ambulance, Fisher River Volunteer Fire Department, and a hazardous materials team from Flathead County that helped clean the site of the damaged propane tank.

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