By Bob Uphues
A fireworks mortar blew up in the hands of a 20-year-old Brookfield man on July 5, severing both of his hands and injuring a 19-year-old man who had lit the fuse moments before.
The incident happened at about 5:15 p.m., according to police, who were the first to arrive at the scene in the 9000 block of Fairview Avenue. Police did not have an update on either man's condition as of Monday morning.
When police arrived they reported observing the 19-year-old victim, who had "various injuries/lacerations on his torso, arms, hands and face," lying on the parkway in front of the home, according to the police report.
The 20-year-old victim, hunched over and losing consciousness, was nearby with towels draped over both hands. After seeing that the man had lost a large amount of blood, police officers tied tourniquets to each of the man's arms and carried him to an ambulance that had just arrived.
As paramedics tended to the 19-year-old on the parkway, a Brookfield police officer drove the ambulance, with the 20 year old inside, to Loyola University Medical Center. Riverside paramedics drove the 19 year old to the hospital after he was treated by Brookfield paramedics at the scene.
According to witnesses, the two men were in the alley behind the residence shooting off fireworks. The 19 year old reportedly was lighting a mortar shell held by the 20 year old when it exploded.
Police reported recovering a "large spent mortar tube" in the alley. They also reportedly confiscated additional fireworks inside the residence, where both men lived. The men are not related, police said.
It's been an unusually active year in terms of illegal fireworks use in the Chicago area generally, with police across the area reporting high spikes in the number of complaints.
Just last week, the Landmark reported that in Riverside, Brookfield and Riverside fireworks complaints were up by 428 percent between Memorial Day and June 23.
"We definitely have had an uptick in calls," said Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak. "It seemed like there's been definitely more out there that we had to address."
Petrak said that his officers do respond to areas when they receive complaints to try and get the fireworks to stop. He said if officers can pinpoint where the fireworks are coming from, they will talk to those people and issue a warning. If it persists, police will issue a citation.
But when the fireworks use is so widespread, as it was this year, it can be difficult to police.
"On the Fourth, it was just so hard," Petrak said. "Every block, it seemed, had something going on."
The July 5 incident was reminiscent of one that happened in Brookfield not too far away, Petrak said, in 1990. On that July 4, a mortar blew up in the face of a 34-year-old man at a backyard party.
The man was severely wounded by the blast, losing an eye and parts of his face, skull and brain.