Fireworks across Minnesota over the July 4th weekend resulted not only in a rare fatality but also house and garage fires in Byron and Hugo, authorities said.
Jack Kocur, 18, died Monday in Brooklyn Park of a blunt force chest injury, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office. Police said an aerial-style mortar firework exploded in his hands, one that is illegal in Minnesota but legal in Wisconsin where he had purchased it.
Police were called to Willows of Aspen Park at about 1:30 a.m. Monday and found a friend performing CPR on Kocur, who had severe wounds to his hands and face. Brooklyn Park Police Inspector Elliot Faust said the firework may have malfunctioned and called it "a very tragic accident."
In Hugo, firefighters were able to put out a garage fire Sunday night before it spread to nearby houses; the fire may have been started by fireworks, authorities said. And in Byron, a city of 6,300 west of Rochester, a home caught fire Monday after a homeowner disposed of legal firework remnants in a garbage bin.
"It's already been a tragic Fourth of July holiday," State Fire Marshal Jim Smith said. "Unfortunately we have too many people who don't use them properly and then we see disastrous results."
Many of the weekend's incidents, including fireworks shot at vehicles and people in Minneapolis on Monday, involved illegal fireworks. Minnesota outlaws fireworks that explode or shoot into the air, and it's up to law enforcement officials to cite offenders for misdemeanors.
But many local agencies can't keep up with the rising calls, Faust said. Brooklyn Park police used to confiscate illegal fireworks "quite regularly," he said, before recent spikes in fireworks use and the surge in violent crimes.
"Fireworks have been a prolific problem in our city and all the surrounding communities," Faust said. "The amount of illegal fireworks being shot off is at an epic level."
Fireworks fatalities in Minnesota are rare, and fireworks injuries also seem to be on the decline. In 2021, 17 Minnesotans were injured by fireworks, down from 78 in 2020, according to the State Fire Marshal Division.
North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale has treated five patients with fireworks-related injuries since last Friday, fewer than during the same time period last year or in 2020.
Smith said it's up to consumers to abide by manufacturer rules and safety tips (bit.ly/3IkvcoE), such as not trying to relight a dud and having water or sand nearby to dispose of sparklers.
"It's just a constant battle," he said. "I wish they could see the statistics that we see — the people who are injured each year, the homes that are destroyed."