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Fireworks probe could lead to charges in death of Fargo man

Jesse Burley

FARGO - The investigation into how Jesse Burley obtained the strictly regulated fireworks that killed him July 4 could possibly lead to criminal charges.

"Would it be nice? Yes," Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said of the prospect of a prosecution in connection with Burley's death. "Could you imagine if this had gone off in a building? Who knows what would have happened."

Vettel said the investigation could also draw licensing penalties if there's no criminal case to be made.

"That's really our goal: To make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

Burley, 41, of Fargo, was decapitated July 4 after he lit by hand a device Vettel said was meant for remote detonation. A neighbor of Burley told The Forum the fireworks he possessed contained a warning reading, "If found, report to the U.S. government."

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is handling the investigation, Vettel said.

An ATF spokesman said he couldn't comment on an ongoing probe or say how common it is for commercial-grade fireworks to end up in unlicensed hands.

The investigation "is still pretty active," said Special Agent Robert Schmidt.

Heavy-duty commercial py­ro­technics, the sort used in community celebrations and other public displays, are tightly regulated and can only be sold and used by those who are licensed and trained by the ATF.

Vettel said investigators have tracked the Chinese-made device to the distributor in the U.S. to which it was transported, but he said it's been "a few years" since it was shipped here.

"It's probably going to take them awhile to go through that backtrack," he said.