Employee recovering from fireworks injuries

Published September 5, 2007

TAMPA - A Bell's Fireworks employee is in good condition following a fiery accident at Raymond James Stadium this weekend, a hospital official said.

Joseph Castonguay, 28, was taken to Tampa General Hospital Saturday night after several fireworks went off in his face and upper body as he was setting them up before a University of South Florida football game.

The incident was Bell's Fireworks' third high-profile accident this year. On July 4, explosions in St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island injured a dozen people.

At the time, Bell's pointed to defective fireworks as the cause, blaming Chinese manufacturer Lidu Fireworks for a malfunctioning piece that played a role in both finales.

Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade said it could be a couple of days before a fire investigator determines the cause of Saturday's explosion. Essential to the investigation is Castonguay's account - missing, so far, due to his hospitalization, Wade said.

Through a hospital spokeswoman, Castonguay declined an interview. And Bell's president Robert Stahl could not be reached Tuesday.

The state Fire Marshall's Office, which issues permits to fireworks manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, is not investigating Bell's, said Jim Goodloe, chief of fire prevention.

Meanwhile, the city of St. Pete Beach is still considering whether to award Bell's a contract to help celebrate the city's 50th anniversary on Nov. 9.

City manager Mike Bonfield said Bell's has begun applying for permits to shoot fireworks from a barge in hopes that the council awards them the contract at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

At this point, Bonfield said, it's too late for the city to secure a contract with any other company: It's either Bell's fireworks, or no fireworks at all.

Bonfield said he'd heard about Saturday's incident, but said he couldn't "make a value judgment" about the extent of the company's responsibility. "They've shot fireworks out here for many, many years without problems," he said. "Fireworks are dangerous things, and accidents happen."

So far, city commissioners have delayed making a decision until Bell's insurance provider handles a claim with the Bon-Aire Resort Motel, where more than 20 windows were blown out during the Fourth of July blast.

Bell's has been in business since 1984, according to its Web site.