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Man dead after fireworks mishap

By Brendan Kirby

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    DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama (WALA) — A local resident died following a fireworks mishap off of Port Royal Street on the north side of the island, according to authorities.

Dauphin Island police did not release the 55-year-old victim’s name, but neighbors identified him as John Walter. They said he had gone out to the middle of Lafitte Bay with a paddle board and some fireworks. They say for several years, he has put on a show immediately preceding the official fireworks event.

“He was out there and had, I think, two had gone off and then one of them exploded prematurely in the box,” said Ernest Ladd, who watched the incident from his home and called 911. “And what we think happened is, you know, either the percussion from that, or just one of the fireworks when it exploded, hit him in the head. I think he had some damage on the temple.”

Troy Gorlott, the town’s public safety supervisor, said the incident occurred about 8:30 p.m., just before the municipality’s fireworks show.

“He was in the water for an unknown amount of time. … He was under water and unresponsive,” he said.

Gorlott said the man did not appear to have suffered severe burns, but he added that a cause of death has not bee determined. The Alabama Marine Police have taken over the investigation, he said.

Mobile County Emergency Medical Services took the man to the Springhill Medical Center, but he did not make it.

Lafitte Bay sits on the north side of the Dauphin Island, facing the Mobile County mainland. It is ringed by houses on three sides, and most of the residents were sitting on their porches waiting for the town’s official fireworks show to start.

They watched in horror on one of Walter’s fireworks exploded and he went under.

Ladd said both of his sons took off after him in a kayak. Others rushed to help, as well.

Ladd said his younger son had just taken a CPR class and performed procedure on the victim until help arrived.

Friends and neighbors described Walter as gregarious and well-liked. One friend recalled the Fourth of July a year ago, when COVID-19 canceled all of the official holiday festivities. He said Walter’s personal fireworks show was a welcome sight.

As for Ladd, he said Sunday night was difficult to watch.

“It was traumatic,” he said. “I mean, the entire bay. I mean, it didn’t really – the town fireworks are going off, and no one’s really too interested to see it. It was a pretty somber moment.”

Dauphin Island does have an ordinance against firing these type of fireworks. But Gorlott said the town fills with people who live elsewhere and often are unfamiliar with the rules.

“It’s hard to enforce,” he said.

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