Two people sustained minor injuries when a 4-inch firework shell misfired and apparently exploded in Patriot’s Park in Riverside during the North Riverside fireworks display on July 4.
A 9-year-old girl suffered a minor wound to her right calf, while a 22-year-old woman next to the girl was hit by debris, which burned through her shirt and injured her upper left arm. Paramedics treated the 9-year-old girl at the park, but her father refused hospitalization. The woman refused treatment.
Patriot’s Park is located directly across 26th Street from the North Riverside Park Mall parking lot, which serves as the launching pad for the annual fireworks display.
Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush said she would be meeting with North Riverside officials this week to discuss the incident and talk about future safety precautions.
“Sometimes things do happen, so we need to find out what happened on the ground,” Rush said. “If there are safety precautions we need to take, then we need to take them.”
As recently as last year, North Riverside police have cleared Patriot’s Park of spectators after concluding that the area was in the fireworks show’s “drop area.” Rush sent out a press release on June 14 announcing that the park would be off limits to non-residents of Parkway Road, which borders the park to the south.
However, after some village trustees balked at North Riverside’s decision to close the park, Rush was told to see if North Riverside could alter the fireworks show’s launching pad or the size of the shells it fired. On June 28, Rush sent a second release stating that the park would be open to the public.
North Riverside, according to Village Administrator Guy Belmonte, agreed to launch smaller shells in 2006, although the launching area?”the top of the mall’s south parking deck?”remained the same.
“Mayor [Richard Scheck] thought that for the safety of everyone, we’d take out the 10-inch shells, so the park wouldn’t be in the drop zone,” Belmonte said.
However, it was a mid-sized, 4-inch shell that misfired into Patriot’s Park, according to Belmonte. Belmonte also disputed whether the shell exploded in the park. Rather, he said, the shell misfired within its tube and most of the blast was blocked by the parking deck wall.
“Something came over, but if it had exploded in the park, a number of people would have gotten hurt,” Belmonte said.
Riverside police officers present in Patriot’s Park at the time of the incident, however, painted a different picture, as did several eyewitnesses. Police estimated the park contained 200 spectators.
According to the police report, “while the display was being launched it was apparent that there was some type of misfire occurred [sic] with a large shower of sparks shooting into the air from where the mortars were being fired. Within a split second later two other misfires occurred with the rockets being fired in different directions. One of the rounds hit 26th Street and skipped of[f] the park fence, landing in the middle of the crowd. The round immediately exploded, causing multiple other smaller explosions and sparks flying in all directions covering a large portion of the crowd. The crown [sic] began to run away from the effected [sic] area and screams were heard throughout the fleeing crowd.”
Riverside resident Derrick Mancini was sitting with his family at the far west end of the park atop a small mound. He also indicated that there may have been more than one shell misfire and that one landed in the park to his right.
“Two or three rockets seemed to shoot through the trees where they were shooting from,” Mancini said. “And each rocket looked to me as if it were getting closer to the ground. My impression is that one mortar, with a green flare, [fell] in the park on the lawn. I covered my ears and turned away.”
Chris Robling, another Riverside resident seated at the west end of the park, said: “When the particular volley took off, I noticed almost immediately that one rocket, leaving gleaming white tracers like the others of its group, peeled off and headed horizontally at perhaps 100- or 150-feet high.
“Then I realized it was coming towards us. Next I saw it moving from my left to right, and my heart sunk as it descended after crossing 26th Street. It’s whole flight was maybe five or six seconds. On impact, which I’d say was closer to the Riverside Street [Parkway Road] that curves around the park than to 26th Street, its red charge went off in a large plume with a clear report.”
Chad Catlin, president of Thundercat Fireworks of Madison, Wisc., which has done the North Riverside fireworks show for the past three years, said that he thought the park was supposed to be closed and that the shell hadn’t misfired at all. Rather, he said: “The shell went up and the stars came out and burned all the way to the ground. I’m not sure what quite happened to tell you the truth.”
When asked about the fact that eyewitnesses in the park claimed something exploded there, Catlin said spectators were firing off “a lot of homemade stuff in the park.”
Riverside Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said the two officers assigned to Patriot’s Park received no complaints of fireworks being set off by spectators. Auxiliary police also assigned to area reported no illegal fireworks being shot from Patriot’s Park.