Pittsburgh-region fireworks mishap probe continuing

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An investigation into a fireworks accident in Apollo last week is raising questions about who is responsible for the shell that exploded in a set of bleachers and injured at least three spectators.

A shell exploded near the crowd at Owens Field about seven minutes into an Independence Day fireworks display Thursday, injuring at least two children and sending 14-year-old Brooke Wright to the hospital with first- and second-degree burns on the back of her legs.

Now recovering at home, Ms. Wright returned to the burn unit at UPMC Mercy Hospital on Monday for a checkup. Her mother Lisa Culp, 39, of Kiskiminetas, said her daughter's injuries were the most severe, but no further information about the other two injured children has been released.

Pyrotecnico, the New Castle-based company that provided the July 4 fireworks display, collected debris from the field and began an investigation into the accident Friday. On Monday morning, Pyrotecnico president Stephen Vitale said his investigators have received several reports that fireworks were shot off in the crowd, causing injury to Ms. Wright and the others, and were not part of the company's official display.

The show continued after the rogue shell exploded in the stands, and Mr. Vitale said his operators did not report any malfunctions with the Pyrotecnico products.

"A lot's not adding up," Mr. Vitale said. "We're having a hard time believing the product actually came from our display. There was no catastrophic detonation of a [Pyrotecnico] product during the show that would have tipped mortars over into the crowd."

However, Mr. Vitale said evidence collected at the field has not been enough to understand what happened yet. The fireworks launch site was located in an adjacent baseball field, which is 480 feet from spectators in the bleachers.

A video of the fireworks display has been posted on YouTube, but it is not clear from the footage who or what caused the blast that landed in the crowd.

"We want to get to the bottom of it," Mr. Vitale said. "Our first and primary concern when we go out and produce firework displays is the safety of the audience and our crews."

The company is working with local authorities to uncover the cause of the accident, which could take up to two weeks. Officials from the Apollo Police Department and the borough could not be reached for comment.


Megan Doyle: mdoyle@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1953.


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