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Courthouse square closed to investigate suspicious powder
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (May 2, 2009) — An unknown powder shut down Waynesville’s downtown courthouse square for nearly two hours Saturday evening, just as Frog Fest participants were leaving the park and clogging downtown streets with pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

The powder eventually proved to be harmless, but that wasn’t clear for several hours.

Sheriff J.B. King said he learned of the powder problem just minutes after he learned he wouldn’t have to kiss a frog as the “winner” of Frog Fest. That honor went instead to St. Robert City Administrator Alan Clark, who received more donations from people who wanted to see him kiss the frog than King or the third candidate, Pulaski County Circuit Court Clerk Rachelle Beasley.

“We had just started to walk away from the frog and the phone rang, and that’s what it was,” King said.

The powder was discovered while deputies were conducting an investigation involving a domestic incident and opened a letter at the courthouse to examine some documents inside the letter about 5 p.m., King said. After the unknown powdery substance fell to the floor, the department “was placed on a lock down and local area emergency responders were notified,” he said in a prepared statement.

Those responding agencies included the hazardous materials teams and regular firefighters from the Waynesville Rural Fire Protection District, the St. Robert Fire Department and the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department. Waynesville police, state troopers, and volunteers from the Mark Twain REACT organization closed off the downtown square to all traffic, King said, with an ambulance from the Pulaski County Ambulance District staged nearby for an emergency response if needed.

Since the powder problem took virtually all firefighters away from both cities, firefighters from the Tri-County Rural Fire Protection District came to the Waynesville/St. Robert area to provide backup coverage, but that caused problems when the small Hazelgreen Rural Fire Protection District received an emergency call reporting a pickup truck rollover on Interstate 44 with the pickup on fire and a person trapped inside. Some Tri-County firefighters on their way to Waynesville diverted from their original destination and went instead to mile marker 143 to deal with the rollover and assist Hazelgreen firefighters with their response.

Nothing like Saturday’s incident has happened before at the Pulaski County Courthouse, King said, but procedures had already been developed in case an incident might happen.

King said he didn’t want to provide details of how his deputies and local emergency responders reacted to the power problem, but said the plans worked.

“I see no point in advertising to the world what our capabilities and procedures are; suffice it to say the incident was handled in just over two hours, which is a very good time from an unknown substance to incident resolution. I believe we worked together very well on this,” King said. “Let’s just say we have policies and procedures in place for various emergency situations that could come up, and I believe the response tonight was very well done.”

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