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HUBBARD FIREWORKS Charges filed in mishap



Published: Fri, September 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The charges stem in part from failure to ensure that spectators would be a safe distance from the shells, the prosecutor said.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

HUBBARD -- The head of a fireworks company faces two misdemeanor criminal charges in the fireworks explosion during the city's Founder's Day celebration at Harding Park.

Van Burnett, president of Burnett Display Co. of Ravenna, is charged with failing to conduct a proper site inspection and failing to secure equipment at the July 21 fireworks display, which his company staged. More than 15 people went to area hospitals after a shell exploded near spectators during the display.

Robert Johnson, prosecutor at Girard Municipal Court, said his office issued a summons to Burnett, of Ravenna, to appear for his arraignment on the charges Oct. 1. The charges -- which carry a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine each -- were filed in the court Thursday after Robert Sharp, a fire marshal's investigator, signed off on them, Johnson said.

Fire marshal's report

Johnson said he reviewed the marshal's 200-page report to determine if criminal charges could be filed. The case is being handled in Girard Municipal Court because Hubbard falls in that court's judicial district.

"It was very complicated," he said. "We looked into a number of allegations."

The charges stem from Burnett's failure to ensure that spectators would be located a safe distance from the shells, and the failure to secure racks that held the cylinders launching the shells, Johnson said.

Depending on the size of the shell -- 8, 10 or 12 inches -- spectators are required to be at least 70 feet away for each inch, he said. If 8-inch shells are used, then the audience must be at least 560 feet away. During the Hubbard show, Johnson said, some people were only 300 feet away.

Additional charges?

Johnson also said additional charges could be filed, but not through his office. "There are a number of allegations that we have no jurisdiction over," he said.

Sharp declined to comment on whether additional charges would be pursued.

Burnett previously maintained a shell malfunctioned after it was fired into the air. He purchased the fireworks from a Pennsylvania company.

Many of those who went to area hospitals for treatment complained of ringing ears, but one woman was taken to the Burn Trauma Center at Akron Children's Hospital. Tracy Mroski, 30, of Hubbard was released after almost two weeks in the hospital.

slshaulis@vindy.com




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