Charlevoix Mi Fireworks Explosion
26 July 1997

A fireworks display at the Ventetian Festival in Charlevoix Michigan late Saturday July 26, 1997 left one dead and at least 15 injured. It was not a barge accident. The fireworks were launched from trailers near the water and a Ferry boat nearby had a hole blown in it. Due to the near water launch and the boat damages, the Coast Guard was involved. We are printing some of the coverage from the Detroit Free Press below.

Additionally, the Venetian Festival has a web site.

Fireworks Turn Deadly
Blast at Charlevoix festival kills one injures 15

Detroit Free Press
Monday July 28, 1997
By Tim Doran and Molly Abraham
One man Was recovering Sunday after losing two limbs when a fireworks shell exploded too soon at a popular Charlevoix summer festival, leaving part of the northern Michigan city looking like a battle zone.

"It was scary as hell," said David Campbell, a local attorney who was watching the fireworks with his family about 15 feet in front of his friend, Tadeusz (Tad) Dobrowolski, a local restaurateur, who lost his left leg and left arm. "It was like a terrorist attack," said Campbell. The explosion at around 11 p.m. Saturday sent shrapnel toward an estimated 50,000 people and left some with shattered bones and severe cuts, the U.S. Coast Guard said Sunday. One man died and at least 15 other people were injured, police said.

The blast came about 15-20 minutes into a fireworks show that was part of the weekend Venetian Festival, witnesses said. The display was being launched near the southeast corner of the bridge crossing U.S.-31 near Round Lake, in the center of town, said Sgt. Mike Tilley of the State Police post at Petoskey. Tilley said the shell, which was supposed to burst in the sky, instead exploded on one of the trailers used to launch the fireworks. About a third of the trailer turned into shards that flew at least 1,200 feet he said.

"All you could see was just orange in the sky," said Missy Vincent, 18, who watched in front of the Cravings ice cream shop where she, works. Dobrowolski, 44, is proprietor of Tad's, a restaurant across from Charlevoix Municipal Airport He was listed in critical condition at Charlevoix Area Hospital on Sunday night. Despite the severity of his injuries, friends said he was able to write notes with his remaining hand. Helen Coon, who runs Charly's restaurant in the Edgewater Hotel, said the place was full of customers at the time of the explosion. I didn't see it but I heard a big thunder-like noise and the building shook,'" she said. 'People said there were pieces of steel flying through the air.' Windows in about half a dozen businesses on Bridge Street, the city's main road, and the Beaver Islander ferry were blown out, state police and the Coast Guard said. Debris blew a hole in the ferry above the water line, the Coast Guard said.

Toby and Sam Haberman of Birmingham, who were entertaining guests Saturday night at their vacation, home, walked down to watch the fireworks from about 100 yards away, Toby Haberman said.

"In the middle of the fireworks, we heard an enormous blast," she said. 'There was a pause in the fireworks, and you knew something was wrong, but then they continued with the fireworks for a minute or two." Haberman said they saw a couple of people on the ground screaming "'Help me, help me' - and they were getting help.' Ambulances were called from surrounding areas. Several vacationing doctors helped. Mark Yager, 43, of Charlevoix died Sunday morning of general trauma at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, where he was a hospital technician. "Everybody is very upset, said house manager Dixie Cofier.

Yager had been sitting next to his wife, Deborah, who was less seriously hurt. She was fisted in fair condition Sunday at the hospital. Two Oakland County residents Shannon Wilson, 17, of Lake Orion and Megan Kapera, 12, of West Bloomfield Township - were treated and released from hospitals, state police said. Unlike the Freedom Festival fireworks in Detroit, where spectators are kept back from the point of explosion, Haberman said that in Charlevoix, 'people were a lot closer to the fireworks. State laws and regulations require spectators to be a certain distance from fireworks, and investigators will check to see if those rules were followed, Tilley said.

The fireworks were set up by Fireworks North, a business in Central Lake, a town south of Charlevoix. Tilley said three of the four people operating the fireworks agreed to take breath alcohol tests and to searches of their vehicles. The fourth refused both requests, he said. "He had been drinking, and admitted he had been drinking," Tilley said.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Crowd may have been too near

Detroit Free Press
29 July 1997
By Dawson Bell
First came the horrific explosion, the fireball at ground zero, the concussion that lifted grown men off their feet and sent projectiles flying through the air.

Then a giant cloud of white smoke enveloped the waterfront where the fireworks for the Charlevoix Venetian Festival were being ignited.

As investigators sorted out what happened Monday, one thing seemed clear: The crowd was too close.

But in those chaotic moments, no one knew what was happening. As the echo died, some applauded. Some, including Police Chief Dennis Halverson, rushed forward. People were bleeding. One died.

And as the sounds of ambulance sirens began to fill the air, the fireworks show resumed Saturday night.

At least 16 people were injured and one killed from steel shrapnel propelled by a charge "the size of a basketball" that exploded inside a 12-inch mortar, State Police Sgt. Mike Tilley said.

The explosion destroyed a bank of mortars, some still holding unexploded ordnance, and took out part of the trailer on which they were mounted.

Tilley said a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to Fireworks North, the company putting on the display, was destroyed by the shrapnel. One witness said he saw several fireworks technicians knocked off their feet by the blast.

But within moments, they were lighting the fuses to set off more rockets.

Police Chief Halverson said Richard Davis, the company's president, briefly examined the area around the mortars after the explosion and found no evidence of injuries, so he resumed firing.

But the deadly shrapnel fanned out over a wide area, officials said, raising questions about whether spectators had been kept far enough away.

Mark Yager, a 44-year-old hospital technician, was less than 100 yards away, sitting on the lawn in a waterfront park. He was killed almost instantly, his mother, Marcella Yager of Maumee, Ohio, said Monday. His wife, Deborah, a few feet away, was struck and suffered burns and cuts. Two of their children, ages 14 and 7, sat between their parents and were untouched.

Anneke Dhaseleer of Charlevoix was nearby. She said she saw a "huge fireball."

People around her were falling to the ground and moaning. A man crouched over one of the victims looked up and yelled something to her; all she caught was "Stop!" Dhaseleer ran toward the street looking for help.

Dave Chulick was sitting atop a grassy knoll 30 yards from the detonation.

Chulick watched as "everything disappeared" in a white band of smoke, then heard the technicians say "We're OK," before they got up "and went about their business."

A fireman rushed forward and shouted: "Shut if off, now!" But the display continued through to a grand finale.

Chulick and his 11-year-old son walked home through the park where many were injured, but was unaware of the devastation until he heard about it from his daughter.

State and federal investigators may take several weeks to determine what happened, Halverson said Monday.

One of the Fireworks North employees refused to take a breath test at the scene, and police obtained a search warrant to test his blood alcohol. "He had been drinking, and admitted he had been drinking," Tilley said earlier.

The other employees passed the tests, Tilley said.

A key unanswered question Monday was whether the company and city adhered to safety guidelines on separation of the crowd from the detonation site.

Kurt Weiss, public education coordinator for the state Fire Marshal's Office, said the guidelines call for spectators to be kept 1,680 feet away. A representative of one of the largest pyrotechnical firms in the country, Massachusetts-based Atlas Advanced, said the distance is 860 feet. Spectators at the Charlevoix event were inside both limits.

Calls to Fireworks North Central Lake office were not returned Monday. Davis is also the owner of Second Chance Body Armor, an international supplier of bulletproof clothing.

The company's contract is with the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce, and the fireworks permit was approved by the City Council. Halverson said he had not reviewed the contract or permit and didn't know if it specified spectator setbacks.

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