UPDATE: Lewiston man got fatal fireworks shell out of state |

LEWISTON — A Maine pyrotechnics expert said the Lewiston man who died during a fireworks accident Sunday shouldn’t have had access to professional grade explosives.

Steven Marson, president of Central Maine Pyrotechnics, said people who use commercial-grade shells in Maine are required to have state and federal licenses and must undergo extensive training to get those licenses.

“You’ve got to know what you’re doing,” Marson said.

Timothy Whitney Sr., 57, had no such license, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland has said.

Whitney died Sunday after he lit a commercial-type shell that was set in a concrete cinder block at his son’s home in Sabattus. The cinder block exploded and several pieces hit Whitney, who was standing 15 feet away.

Just before 2 p.m., Sabattus firefighters got a call that “fireworks blew up in (someone’s) face,” Fire Chief Marc Veilleux said. Firefighters and EMS workers arrived within minutes and took Whitney to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, but he died shortly after arriving at the hospital. 

On Monday, Whitney’s family mourned his loss. In a Facebook message to the Sun Journal, Troy Whitney called his father “a great man (who) went out of his way for anyone he loved.”

“His family is gonna be lost without him,” he wrote.

Consumer-grade fireworks have been legal in Maine since 2012. Towns can prohibit their use, but Sabattus allows them.

Consumer fireworks are powerful enough to kill when handled incorrectly. Commercial-grade fireworks are even more powerful and are only allowed to be handled by licensed professionals.

Marson has been in the industry for 44 years and heads Hallowell-based Central Maine Pyrotechnics, which runs professional fireworks shows throughout New England and sells consumer fireworks in seven Maine stores. He learned about Whitney’s death Sunday night, just after he got back from the American Pyrotechnics Association’s fall conference for the fireworks industry.

“I was beside myself,” he said. “The last thing anybody in the business wants to see is someone being injured.”

Marson said he immediately asked his 50 licensed crews if anyone knew Whitney. No one did.

While Marson did not know Whitney and has not been involved with any investigation, he knows what police have said publicly: The shell was stuck in a PVC pipe and set in a concrete block. The explosion blew apart the block, hitting not only Whitney but also two homes that were 140 feet away.

In Marson’s experience, that sounded like 3-to-5-inch shell that was more powerful than any a consumer could legally buy or use. 

Although commercial shells of that size vary in power, he said, some are “just like a piece of dynamite.”

It is unclear whether the incident is under investigation. McCausland could not be reached for comment Monday.

If there is an investigation, Marson said every commercial shell is labeled with the manufacturer’s name and who it was made for, making them traceable. Even with an explosion, Marson said, remnants of that label may remain.

“I can tell you this much, someone knows where it came from,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate and very sad for me to be talking about someone losing their life because they did something they didn’t understand and that they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.”

Marson said his employees go through years of training and apprenticeship, background checks and annual licensing in order to handle professional-grade shells. Even that, he said, is no guarantee of safety. 

“I’ve been doing this 44 years and still today I’m checking, double-checking, triple-checking, checking again to make sure that the show’s setup is safe, that everything is safe. Because I want everybody to go home the way they came,” he said.

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A Lewiston man is dead after a fireworks shell he lit exploded Sunday in Sabattus, fire investigators say. The shell was in a PVC pipe propped up by a cinder block.

A Lewiston man is dead after a fireworks shell he lit exploded Sunday in Sabattus, fire investigators say. The shell was in a PVC pipe propped up by a cinder block.

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