Va. Man Killed Making Illegal Fireworks Remembered

July 3, 2013
Some neighbors say they didn't meet him, but often heard him.

July 02--DINWIDDIE -- In his Dinwiddie County neighborhood, Kelly Leplante was often heard more than he was seen.

Every now and then, a loud boom would echo across the large tracts of land that line the one unmarked road to and from his neighborhood.

Pictures would fall from the wall in the house nearest to the Leplante home in the 20000 block of Shippings Road, according to neighbor Bob Newman.

And on the Fourth of July, it was not unusual for Leplante to shoot off fireworks, neighbors said.

"I've never met him personally, but I would hear him all the time," Newman said. "There were a lot of loud noises. He would shoot off some pretty powerful stuff."

Around 10:15 Sunday morning, there was another loud boom. Soon after, neighbors heard less familiar sounds: sirens and the whir of a helicopter.

Ambulances and what looked like bomb squad trucks to neighbor David Smith zipped down Shippings Road, making Smith think that there was a bomb threat.

The community would later find out that the entourage of ambulances and the helicopter were addressing serious injuries Leplante sustained while illegally manufacturing fireworks in a trailer less than 20 feet from his home.

Leplante's injuries would prove fatal. He was pronounced dead after arriving at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, authorities said.

Emergency crews were called to the scene by a family member inside the home.

Leplante leaves behind a wife and teenage daughter. Neither were injured in the blast, authorities said.

When authorities arrived on the scene, they found that the backside of Leplante's single-wide construction trailer had been completely blasted out, while the front end remained largely intact.

Leplante's family members were immediately evacuated as Virginia State Police, Dinwiddie County deputies and Dinwiddie Fire and EMS managed the remaining contents inside the trailer.

By Monday afternoon, Virginia State Police took possession of several commercial fireworks. Other homemade fireworks that Leplante had already completed were detonated Sunday night, while explosive materials, such as gun power, nitrates and chlorides found in the trailer, were burned on site.

"Everything at the scene is now safe," Dinwiddie County Deputy Fire Marshal Nick Sheffield said.

It is illegal to manufacture, possess or sell fireworks in Dinwiddie County without a permit issued by the Board of Supervisors. Violators can face a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Sheffield said that Leplante did not possess a permit from the county or state.

"That is what is hard about it. A lot of the materials to make the fireworks are legal to have, to a certain extent. It is the manufacture of fireworks that is illegal," Sheffield said.

He added that Dinwiddie Fire and EMS have not been called to the residence before, despite Leplante's history of shooting off fireworks in the area.

"He would shoot them off once in a blue moon, and then on the holidays," neighbor Billy Wilson said. "It was just something he liked to do. We really never talked about why he had gotten interested in stuff like that."

It was the worst fireworks-related accident that Sheffield said he has ever seen.

"Had we have heard that this was taking place, we would have addressed it," Sheffield said.

Sheffield said that authorities are not planning to press charges against the family.

"We are in the final stages of the investigation. The only other thing that we may be doing is working with residents in the area on safe handling of fireworks from an educational standpoint," Sheffield said.

As the information about Leplante's death continues to seep into the community, neighbors remember a man who was willing to take risks and always provided for his family.

Wilson described Leplante, a welder by trade, as always one to make jokes.

"He worked most of the time. He would go up to Fredricksburg and Richmond on jobs. He would put his life on the line welding tanks with gas in it. He would take jobs that others wouldn't even attempt to do," Wilson said. "You are not going to meet anybody better than him and his family. We will miss him."

Sheffield hoped that the incident would serve as an example of why laws regarding the handling of fireworks are in place and why so many precautions are taken.

"There is so much that could go wrong. People should take precaution to make sure that that doesn't happen. People can go out and see the [fireworks] shows and not take the chance of hurting their family members," Sheffield said.

- Vanessa Remmers may be reached at 804-722-5155 or [email protected].

Copyright 2013 - The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

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