POCATELLO --An Idaho State University student blew off several of his fingers Sunday afternoon when the potato gun he was trying to fire malfunctioned and exploded outside his college neighborhood residence, police said.
Derek Schaible, 22, was listed in stable condition Sunday night at Portneuf Medical Center after being rushed there by ambulance following the 3 p.m. incident in the yard of his home, 208 S. 13th Ave. At 10 p.m. Sunday hospital officials said Schaible had been in surgery and they did not know whether his fingers could be reattached. Police and neighbors said Schaible is an Idaho State University music student known for being a skilled piano player. He had been scheduled to perform during the Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration service at the nearby First United Methodist Church on Sunday night.
Police and neighbors initially thought that Schaible had been handling a pipe bomb but further investigation revealed he was trying to fire a potato gun. Police Lt. Roger Schei said when Schaible filled the gun with black powder and tried to light it, the gun exploded. Schei said the incident remains under investigation and charges against Schaible are possible, such as violation of the law prohibiting the discharge of a firearm within city limits.
The explosion shattered the calm of a rainy Sunday afternoon , getting the attention of several of Schaible's neighbors who rushed outside to find him reeling in pain beside the hedge on the north side of his property. Neighbor Paul Dial, one of the first people on the scene, said he was watching television when he heard the boom. "It was very loud. It shook the pictures on the wall," said Dial. Running outside Dial came upon Schaible, who was covering his mutilated right hand with his left hand, saying, "What have I done, what have I done." Dial said he observed shrapnel wounds on Schaible's legs and at least three fingers were missing from his right hand.
Neighbors Rick Ross and Bret Davis were watching the New York Jets-New England Patriots football game on television when they heard the explosion. "It was like an M-80 ," said Ross. "We got up and observed (Schaible) running around the side of the house holding his hand in the air." Davis said he saw a plume of smoke and Schaible was standing as if in a daze before running around the side of the house. At the time of the explosion Schaible's girlfriend was inside his residence, a single-story light blue wood-frame home. Schaible's neighbors called 911 and along with his girlfriend provided first-aid until Pocatello police and fire units arrived. The explosion did not cause any damage to Schaible's residence and did not injure anyone else. Police said Schaible was in shock when they arrived and he could not initially offer any explanation as to what happened.
What was left of the potato gun --a damaged black pipe --at first led police and neighbors to believe Schaible had been handling some sort of pipe bomb. As of 4 p.m. Sunday the black pipe remained stuck in the hedge adjacent to where the blast occurred. Police said their investigation eventually revealed that the explosion was the result of Schaible trying to fire a potato gun. Police cordoned off Schaible's property with yellow tape and remained on the scene for a few hours.
After Schaible had been transported to PMC, small groups of neighbors stood along the taped perimeter or across the street, viewing the scene in the pouring rain and trying to make sense of such an unusual incident in their usually quiet neighborhood. Most of the neighbors knew Schaible and said he seemed to be the typical college student and none had witnessed any unusual behavior from him in the past. Some expressed sadness at the possible loss of his fingers considering he plays piano and had been scheduled to perform at the MLK event Sunday night as well as an upcoming recital. Lt. Schei said the police investigation into the incident will be done by the end of the week, at which time prosecutors will decide if charges are warranted.