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September 01, 2007 08:02 PM

Potato Gun Explosion Kills One

A man in Hull, Iowa is dead as a result of what officials say was an accident involving a potato launcher. Officials say 21-year-old, Ryan Meerdink died from injuries he received after the gun was lit and exploded Friday evening. Now fire officials say this accident and others like it show the very real dangers of these seemingly fun devices.

They're all over the internet--videos on how to build potato guns.  There are nearly four-thousand on YouTube alone, but there's just one key fact many of them leave out.  "When something goes wrong with a potato gun, it goes very wrong," said Jim Sideras, Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Division Chief.

As it did in Hull, Iowa last night, when one exploded and led to the death of Ryan Meerdink.  Sideras says he hears about these types of accidents nationally every year and that launching potatoes is entertaining, but not safe.  He said, "You can shoot them 200-300 feet away. With that kind of force if it were to explode or someone was hit by the potato, it can cause serious injury or death."

Heavy duty potato guns are dangerous because of the combination of a spark and household items like gasoline or hairsprary.  That's how you ignite the gun, in a chamber filled with chemicals, started by a fire source.  But, Sideras says because the devices are usually homemade, they often malfunction.  "When the device explodes, whatever it's made of will hurl out and hit everyone in it's path," he said.

And he says that's not a chance people should take. "It's best to just get rid of it.  It's not safe. Sooner or later, somebody's going to get hurt."

Sideras says there's no way to use a potato launcher without the risk of severe injury.   

A police official tells KELOLAND News that launching potato guns is illegal within the city limits of Sioux Falls.

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