A long day of searching the Happys Inn area for a man considered armed and dangerous ended shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday when he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe identified the man Thursday as Don Smith, 62, of Happys Inn. He was found in hilly terrain off McKillop Road south of Highway 2, about two miles west of his home, Bowe said.
The search for Smith began shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday, after the Sheriff’s Office was notified of a handful of destructive events at and around Happy’s Roadhouse Inn. Two power poles were knocked over, a home, two outbuildings and an ice machine were damaged, and a 1,000 gallon propane tank reported roughly half full was leaking.
The home, Lincoln County Under Sheriff Brian Griffeth would later say, looked “like a tornado hit (it).”
Smith, authorities would learn, had driven a large 6x6 surplus military truck into the buildings, the ice machine and the power poles. They believe he fired two bullets at the propane tank, one of which pierced the container and caused the leak.
On Thursday, Bowe said he did not know Smith’s motive.
Wednesday’s search for Smith — who reportedly parked the truck at his home before fleeing on foot — turned into an interagency effort led by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. The U.S. Border Patrol sent a helicopter, a K-9 unit and additional agents; Flathead County Sheriff’s Office sent Two Bear Air — a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera — and at least one additional deputy; and at least four Montana Highway Patrol officers were assigned to the incident.
In addition, Fisher River and Libby volunteer fire departments and Brent Teske, director of the Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency, responded to deal with the propane leak, eventually assisted by a Hazmat team sent from Kalispell.
A two-person Libby Volunteer Ambulance crew stood by for hours.
At the outset of Wednesday’s search, the Sheriff’s Office issued a “code red alert,” warning people in the area to stay locked inside their homes, minimize driving and, if possible, stay away from the area.
Bowe told The Western News Wednesday morning that Smith had threatened “not to be taken alive.”
Despite the alert, Highway 2 remained open throughout the day, with firefighters providing traffic control while fire trucks were parked on the roadside. Various side roads were blocked by law enforcement, depending on where the search was happening.
Searchers on foot began in the vicinity of Smith’s home off Crystal Lake Road and moved west from there, eventually joined by the Border Patrol K-9 unit and the two helicopters.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Kirk Kraft, who lives in the area and knows it well, spent some of the search in the back seat of the Border Patrol helicopter.
Twice the searchers on the ground found “high caliber” rifle rounds left in the road with something written in the dirt nearby, Griffeth said. He declined to reveal the messages, and said they suspected Smith’s intent in leaving the rounds in the road was to lure deputies from their vehicles to investigate.
Searchers had their first potential sighting of Smith around 3:30 p.m., when a man fitting his description — wearing a hat, brown leather jacket and brown pants — was spotted on Horseshoe Lake Road. He soon was seen walking back into the woods.
At about 3:45 p.m., search teams were called back to the command post at Fisher River Fire Station No. 1 to regroup.
The plan that came out of that meeting, Griffeth said afterward, was to establish a perimeter on the ground and keep pressure on Smith until it got darker, when his body heat would make him easier to spot from the air using Two Bear Air’s infrared camera.
The search resumed after about half an hour, with Lincoln County Sheriff’s Detective Brad Dodson replacing Kraft in the Border Patrol helicopter.
Shortly before 6 p.m., radio traffic indicated that the helicopter crew had spotted something southwest of Loon Lake for ground searchers to investigate.
About 20 minutes later, radio traffic from a Sheriff’s deputy on the ground indicated that Smith’s body had been found.
Bowe later reported that Smith was found with a handgun. Bowe also said that at no time had Smith confronted law enforcement personnel.
After the discovery of Smith’s body, search teams slowly began returning to the command post, where Bowe and Griffeth praised the cooperation among the multiple agencies throughout the search.
About 31 people were involved from the different agencies, Bowe said.