CAMPVILLE, Fla. – A Hawthorne man suffered fatal injuries Monday night when the fireworks he was lighting malfunctioned, Alachua County deputies said.
Darren Lotow, 42, was airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital, where he died, deputies said. He was a father of two.
Deputies said Lotow was trying to set off large mortar-type fireworks through a PVC pipe anchored to the ground in a pasture on Northeast 22nd Lane in Hawthorne. The fireworks malfunctioned, exploding through the side of the pipe and causing traumatic injuries to Lotow's face and chest, deputies said.
Family members heard the fireworks go off, and when they didn't hear from Lotow, they called 911 about 9:30 p.m. Monday as they searched for him in the pasture.
"Mr. Lotow was out in the pasture. The family heard the explosion, however, they didn’t see any of the fireworks go into the air, so it raised their suspicions," Alachua County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Brandon Kutner said.
Lotow's wife called his cellphone, but he didn't answer, so the family began looking for him. When they found him, they performed CPR until rescue personnel arrived.
Rescue workers called an emergency helicopter because of the severity of Lotow's injuries, but he died at the hospital.
The State Fire Marshal's Office is also investigating.
In Florida, fireworks that leave the ground are illegal unless used for a specific purpose, such as agriculture, and purchasers have to sign a waiver accepting responsibility for the purchase.
Deputies warn that no matter how many times someone has used fireworks in the past, they are illegal and should not be used.
"Regardless of the experience you may have -- and I understand this family put on these shows for many, many years, and it was common place -- accidents happen," Kutner said. "Unfortunately, this is a tragic event."
Kutner said that based on the impact and injuries that Lotow suffered, anyone standing near him could have easily been injured or killed, too. That’s how dangerous the mortar style fireworks are.