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Mom of man killed setting off fireworks on head says rules too lax

PORTLAND, Maine » The mother of a man who tried to launch a firework off the top of his head for July Fourth and was killed instantly said Monday she’s advocating for stricter controls about who can use the explosives.

Devon Staples, 22, and his friends had been drinking and setting off fireworks Saturday night in a backyard in Staples’ eastern Maine hometown, Calais, when the accident happened with a reloadable fireworks mortar tube, police have said.

Staples’ mother, Kathleen Staples, said she is going to reach out to lawmakers about the possibility of tighter controls over fireworks. The state should consider requiring safety training courses before allowing someone to use them, she said. She compared fireworks with other regulated items such as cars and guns.

"At least it’d be a little bit more than, ‘Here you go,’" Staples said. "That’s an explosive. They didn’t just hand me a license and put me in the car."

Devon Staples also had lived in the Orlando, Florida, area, where he worked as a performer portraying Disney characters such as Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" and Goofy, his mother said.

She said he believed the firework was "a dud" that was unlikely to hurt him. State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said that is unlikely because the mortar had been fired once previously and he "can’t imagine someone would anticipate that it was a dud."

Staples’ death is the first fireworks fatality in Maine since it legalized fireworks on Jan. 1, 2012, authorities said. Lawmakers had voted to repeal a 1949 law banning fireworks, reasoning the industry would create jobs and generate revenue.

Democratic Rep. Michel Lajoie, a retired fire chief from Lewiston who has pushed to repeal Maine’s fireworks law in the past, said Monday that he’s considering trying to introduce another measure next year but acknowledged it faces long odds. Retailers have fiercely opposed any effort in the Legislature to restrict the use of fireworks.

Lajoie said even a ban might not prevent injuries and deaths.

"They’re going to say, ‘Well, you can’t regulate stupidity’ … and it’s true, you can’t. But the fact of the matter is you have to try something," Lajoie said. "I’m not giving up."

Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin contributed to this report.

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