Those close to Devon Staples, who died when he lit fireworks on his head on the Fourth of July, said Monday that the young man probably didn’t know what he was doing. They speculated that he lit the mortar accidentally or thought it was a dud.
According to local police, Staples, 22, was messing around with friends in Calais, Maine, drinking and setting off fireworks when he put a mortar on his head and lit it. Mortars are cardboard tubes holding packaged fireworks — though it’s unclear what type of firework was in the tube. The firework exploded, instantly killing Staples.
Staples’s fiancee, Kara Hawley, said the whole thing was an accident.
Hawley, 30, said Staples was likely “buzzed” from alcohol and that he accidentally lit the cigarette lighter in his hand while dancing with the firework on his head, the Portland Press Herald reported.
“He would never intentionally do something like that. He was just trying to get us to laugh,” Hawley told the Press Herald.
Friends of Staples who were with him at the time said they tried to dissuade him from the stunt and were taken aback when they saw the fuse was lit. Hawley told the Press Herald that after she saw the mortar was lit, she yelled at Staples to throw it away but “it was too late.”
Kathleen Staples, Devon’s mother, said her son wouldn’t have lit the firework if he had thought it was actually going to go off.
“That would’ve been suicide. I can’t see a happy boy wanting to destroy himself,” she said according to CBS Boston.“He believed it was a dud, he stuck it over his head and he was goofing off.”
However, Maine Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said the mortar had been fired earlier and that he “can’t imagine someone would anticipate that it was a dud,” the Associated Press reported. Thomas reported the investigation into Staples’s death determined it was an accident, according to the Press Herald.
Friends and family remember Staples as a fun-loving guy, always looking to entertain. Hawley said Staples, a proven dog lover, was planning to become a veterinary technician, intending to start classes at Washington County Community College in the fall. Staples at one time lived in Orlando and worked at Disney World, dressing up as characters like Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.”
“The kid, out of hundreds of people, ended up working for Disney World as Gaston and Goofy. He was talented and bright,” Staples said.
In the wake of her son’s death, Staples is also advocating for more strict fireworks regulations in Maine. The state just recently legalized fireworks in 2012 after a ban of more than 60 years. Staples told the AP on Monday that regulations should be similar to those for firearms or driving cars.
“At least it’d be a little bit more than, ‘Here you go,’” she said. “That’s an explosive. They didn’t just hand me a license and put me in the car.”
Maine Rep. Michel Lajoie told the AP he’s considering trying to introduce a measure to restrict the use of fireworks, though he wonders if it will increase safety.
“They’re going to say, ‘Well, you can’t regulate stupidity’ … and it’s true, you can’t. But the fact of the matter is you have to try something,” Lajoie said. “I’m not giving up.”
There were 11 fireworks-related deaths in the United States last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.