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Armstrong girl, 14, suffers 2nd-degree burns in fireworks accident

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 10:39 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo fireworks accident victim Brooke Wright, 14, is comforted by her mother, Lisa Culp, while recovering from injuries on Friday, July 5, 2013.

A Kiski Township mother was caring for her daughter on Friday after her child apparently was burned by a wayward firework at a Fourth of July display in Apollo.

Brooke Wright, 14, was the most seriously injured of three children hurt in the incident on Thursday night at Owens Field, said Brooke's mother, Lisa Culp. No information was available on the others.

Brooke suffered second-degree burns on both legs. She was treated at the burn unit at UPMC Mercy Hospital and released Friday morning.

“You take your child to something like this, a big event for the community, and you expect them to be safe there. And something like this happens,” Culp said.

The family lives along Route 56, a short distance from the Apollo-Ridge football stadium, where the seventh annual Apollo Salute to the Armed Forces program was held. The fireworks display began around 10 p.m. Fireworks were launched from the nearby Little League field.

Culp said she was outside the stadium finishing a cigarette when the fireworks started.

She said she saw a firework arch toward a concession stand, followed by a white flash and colored sparks. Her daughter ran to her from that area, said her legs hurt and fell into her arms.

“I was in a state of shock,” said Culp, who has two other daughters. “When you see your kid like that, you want to trade places with them and take their pain away.”

Program Chairman Vince Mazzon declined comment, referring questions to Pyrotecnico, the New Castle company that put on the display.

“It's a freak accident,” Mazzon said while he and other volunteers were cleaning up at Owens Field on Friday.

In a news release, Pyrotecnico said it “deeply regrets” that people were hurt. The company said it is investigating the incident and will make its findings available to the public.

A representative of Pyrotecnico did not return phone calls for additional information. The state police in Armstrong County, Apollo police and Kiski Township police, who were at the event directing traffic, all said they were not investigating the incident.

Neighbors watching the show from their homes along adjacent North Second Street said they saw what appeared to be an explosion on the ground during the show.

“It was like a bomb went off,” said Mark Lookhart, who said he and his family were watching the fireworks from the sidewalk in front of their house. A large cloud of smoke and sparks flew toward his home, he said.

“There was a lot of people screaming,” he said.

Brian Johnston, a former borough councilman, was watching from his front steps. He said the bleachers and parking lot were full for the event.

“All I saw was it looked like one went off on the ground,” he said.

Owens Field is owned by the Apollo-Ridge School District. Show organizers were required to have insurance for the event.

Superintendent Matt Curci said the district was gathering information about what happened.

“Our thoughts and prayers were with those who were injured,” Curci said.

Brooke's friends were sending her encouraging messages on Facebook. A delivery of “Get Well Soon” balloons from her friends on the Apollo-Ridge Color Guard put a smile on her face Friday afternoon.

Culp said she was upset that no one with the event or authorities had contacted her about what happened or asked how her daughter was doing. She said she has contacted an attorney.

Friends were helping Culp sterilize her home Friday to reduce the risk of infection to Brooke, who will return to the Mercy burn unit on Monday. Friends also were talking about staging a benefit to help Culp, who said she lives “paycheck to paycheck.”

Culp said she had taken her children to the fireworks display since they were babies.

“It's an every-year tradition; we go to the Fourth of July fireworks or the Moonlanding,” she said. “It's just unacceptable and unfortunate that something like this took place at a public event.”

Freelance writer Rick Monti contributed to this report. Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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