May 21, 2019
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Parents say son thought firework that killed him was a dud

Courtesy Photo | BDN
Courtesy Photo | BDN
Devon Staples died after a fireworks accident in Calais over the Fourth of July weekend. Photo taken by family friend Kara Hawley. Permission given to use.

CALAIS, Maine — The parents of the man who died in a fireworks accident on July 4 said the circumstances of the death have been misrepresented.

Reached Monday morning, Russ Staples said his son Devon Staples had been holding the fireworks mortar tube on his head as a joke, thinking that it was a dud and could not ignite.

Somehow, however, a spark ignited the firework, causing the accident that killed his 22-year-old son at about 10 p.m. during a celebration at a home on South Street.

Staples was one of several people drinking at the home when the accident took place.

“We’re pretty upset,” said Russ Staples, adding this is the second child he had lost. He did not provide details on the death of the other child, saying, “It’s a long story.”

Staples’ wife, Kathleen Staples, said later Monday that she and her husband were visiting her family in Skowhegan when they learned their son had died.

“All you can do is fall down and wail,” she said, adding she was glad she was with her family when they found out.

“I believe God hugged us with being with my mom and my brother and sister,” she said.

Russ Staples said his cousin has set up a page on giveforward.com, a fundraising website, to raise money to cover funeral expenses and to help the family “get through this time.” More than $2,360 of the $6,000 goal had been raised by about 4 p.m. Monday.

Staples said his family lives week to week and doesn’t have much money.

“This is something you don’t plan for,” he said.

The family plans to donate any leftover funds in an effort to place more controls on the sale of fireworks.

Staples said Monday that by selling fireworks, “you’re just supplying people with bombs. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Kathleen Staples agreed, saying there should be some kind of training and licensing program for the handling of fireworks similar to the training and licensing program for the use of motorized vehicles. Such a program would ensure that people handling fireworks have had the training necessary to handle them safely, she said.

Over the weekend, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, described the firework that killed Devon Staples as being within a reloadable mortar tube available in consumer fireworks stores around the state.

The fatality was the first reported since fireworks became legal in Maine in March 2012. Fireworks sales in the state through May 2015 totaled $20.3 million, officials have said.

McCausland said Monday the investigation revealed Staples may have loaded the firework backward so that when it exploded, it exploded downward onto his skull, rather than upward into the sky.

He said investigators with the state fire marshal’s office were working with the medical examiner’s office to make a final determination on whether the device was properly loaded.

“There were some other fireworks injuries around the state but nothing of this magnitude,” McCausland said.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas confirmed Monday that at least eight incidents were reported over the holiday weekend around the state, most involving burns and injuries to eyes and hands.

He said his statistics included only those people who were transported to a hospital by an ambulance. They did not include incidents involving people who drove themselves to a hospital or who sought medical care at a clinic or other facility that was not a hospital.

Last year, he said, the total number of reports of fireworks-related injuries for the entire year was 11.

Cody Staples told the New York Daily News that his brother was holding a lighter and accidentally ignited the mortar.

“It was a freak accident,” he told the newspaper. “But Devon was not the kind of person who would do something stupid. He was the kind of person who would pretend to do something stupid to make people laugh.”

He told the Daily News, “I was the first one who got there. There was no rushing him to the hospital. There was no Devon left when I got there.”

The Daily News reported that Devon Staples lived in Florida, where he once worked at Walt Disney World as Gaston, a character from the animated movie “Beauty and the Beast.” Cody Staples told that newspaper his brother was currently working as a dog walker.

Devon Staples’ mother told the Bangor Daily News that her son played Gaston and many other Disney characters, including Goofy, Captain Hook and Woody.

“He came back to Maine. He wanted to study to be a veterinary assistant and he was training dogs,” Kathleen Staples said, adding he was “wonderful with dogs.”

His miniature English bulldog, Harvey, has been looking for him, she said.

“My son was a kind person,” she said. In the past week, he gave a neighbor and her dog a ride to the vet and he helped another person clean out books that were old and wet.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do this without our Devon,” she said.

“He loved making people happy,” Cody Staples said of his brother’s time as a Disney character. “Anyone who would want to give a tribute to Devon should go out and do something nice for someone. Show some love to someone you don’t know. That kid was all about showing people love.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified which organization is investigating whether the device was properly loaded.


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