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Published July 05, 2011, 09:53 AM

Eyewitness: Fargo Man Decapitated in Fireworks Accident

Police have identified the victim of Monday's fatal fireworks accident as Jesse William Burley, 41. An eyewitness here says a Fourth of July fireworks accident decapitated the Fargo man Monday night.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

FARGO – Police have identified the victim of Monday's fatal fireworks accident as Jesse William Burley, 41.

An eyewitness here says a Fourth of July fireworks accident decapitated the Fargo man Monday night.

Chris Hanson, who lives down the street from the victim, was packing up his car to leave north Fargo’s Riviera Heights mobile home park when the accident happened as tornado sirens sounded just before 9:30 p.m.

Burley, Hanson’s neighbor, was getting ready to set off a second round of what Hanson said he believes was either a homemade or illegal artillery shell firework.

“He went over into the middle of the street, and within 10 seconds of us talking to him, he lit it and all we saw was a cloud of smoke, a bang,” Hanson said.

What Hanson saw next sent him immediately into shock, he said.

“When I walked up to his body, it was nothing but his shoulders down,” Hanson said this morning.

Police are still investigating exactly what happened, but it appears the accident involving some type of mortar-style firework caused the man’s death, said Sgt. Chris Helmick, adding it’s unknown if the firework was bought in a store or homemade.

Earlier in the evening, Burley called Hanson over to his trailer to check something out. Burley showed him fireworks that contained a warning that read, “If found please report to the U.S. government,” Hanson said.

“Right there and then I knew that I had to get away because I was not going to be involved in that,” Hanson said.

His neighbor ignited the first firework, which went off with no injuries but a big bang, Hanson said.

“You could see the shock waves in the air,” he said.

An hour and a half later, the neighbor lit the fatal second firework, Hanson said.

The accident should be used as an example of how dangerous fireworks can be, Hanson said.

“I’m never going to light a firecracker off again in my life,” he said.

Police continued the investigation today and had not yet confirmed the identity of the man.

“At this point, we don’t know if he was struck or if the munition blew up, but it appeared based on the information we got during our investigation that it was caused by the fireworks in some manner,” Helmick said.

The victim’s injuries included massive head wounds from what appeared to be caused by a mortar type firework, police said.

“It appears that he was lighting the device off, and so we don’t feel that there were others involved in the incident at this point,” Vettel said.

Vettel said fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Fargo, yet police respond to hundreds of fireworks-related calls every year.

“We also understand that people want to shoot them off, and at the end of the day, people just need to understand that there’s a risk involved,” he said. “And if people understand that there is, they hopefully will take more precautions to make sure if they are shooting them off, they find a safe location outside of city limits, but more importantly, they do them safely.”

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