The smoke has cleared, big booms are less frequent, and dogs have come out of hiding. Yet for Glenda Lynch, the aftereffects of fireworks go on forever.
“It’s a life sentence without him,” said Lynch, of Lake Stevens, whose 13-year-old son, Shane, was killed in 1999 by a blast of an aerial mortar firework.
The family’s nightmare began July 3, 1999. Shane and his father Ted Lynch, who has since died, were celebrating with friends at Lake Roesiger. In a Herald account published two days later, Snohomish County Fire District 16 Chief Brian Anderson said Shane was leaning low over the mortar when it went off. He was struck in the upper forehead. The fire chief said he didn’t know if Shane thought the fuse had gone out or something else happened.
In an interview Wednesday, Glenda Lynch, 52, remembered the call that came late that night. “I heard a bunch of screaming. There had been an accident, and a lady on the phone said I needed to go to Harborview,” said Lynch, who then lived in Snohomish.
The impact shattered Shane’s forehead. His skull was cracked ear to ear, and his brain was burned, she said. Shane never regained consciousness. He died 13 days later, on July 16, 1999, at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.
Shane, a swimmer who competed in the butterfly with the StingRays in Snohomish, had just finished seventh grade at Marysville Middle School. His last school picture was published in Tuesday’s Herald along with other obituaries and memorials, as it has been most every July 3 or July 4 since he died. “Fireworks took your life,” said the memorial placed by his mom.
When Shane died, Lynch was sick with grief. That grief turned to anger, and then to purpose. “I wanted to do something. I want to prevent this from happening to others,” said Lynch, who became a Snohomish district school bus driver after her older son died. Her younger son, Kevin, was 10 when his brother died, and is now 29.
Working with her friend David Weed, a community services official with Woodinville Fire &Rescue, and with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Lynch has shared Shane’s story and fireworks hazard information with hundreds of kids at school assemblies.
Lynch also shared her loss in an article, “A Mother’s Tragic Tale,” published in a Woodinville Fire &Rescue flier. According to the flier, the mortar that killed Shane might have been ignited by a heated tube from a previously discharged mortar or by static electricity.
Working on fireworks safety efforts with the help of ATF officials in Seattle, Lynch said she learned that static electricity can ignite flash powder, used in firecrackers and many other fireworks. “That should be common knowledge,” Lynch said.
Her stance now is to leave fireworks displays to professionals.
“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Lynch, summing up a message in the Woodinville flier. Lynch keeps that flier, along with pictures of Shane, his obituary and other safety information, in a binder she carries wherever she goes. She’s always ready to speak up about what she hopes will be bans on personal fireworks in every community.
“People don’t look at fireworks like they should,” she said. “Why do so many kids have to get injured or killed?”
A Consumer Product Safety Commission report released in 2016 said that in the previous year, 11 U.S. deaths were attributed to fireworks, and about 11,900 people went to hospitals. Kids aren’t the only ones hurt. In 2015, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a serious fireworks injury to his right hand. The NFL player told his story in a video released by the commission, which regulates fireworks sales.
Locally this year, doctors at Providence Regional Medical Center and Arlington’s Cascade Valley Hospital treated more than a half-dozen fireworks injuries. At Harborview, 32 were treated by Wednesday, most with hand injuries.
This was the first year personal fireworks were banned in Marysville and Brier, which joined many other cities in the county not allowing the devices. Fireworks have not been banned in unincorporated Snohomish County.
Lynch sees slow but steady progress. She and Shane’s grandmother, Barbara Parson, testified in favor of a fireworks ban in Marysville in 2001, but the City Council voted against it. Fifteen years went by before the Marysville council passed the ban in 2016.
“It’s our kids. It’s our job to protect them,” Lynch said. Bearing the pain of losing Shane every day, she said she’ll never stop sharing what happened.
By telling Shane’s story to anyone who’ll listen, she said, “you don’t know who you’re saving.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.