Published January 13, 2015
A fifth person died Thursday from a series of fireworks explosions that began as workers moved an Independence Day display from a truck.
The bodies of the four other victims remained at the gulfside scene overnight because investigators were worried that some of the $20,000 worth of fireworks could still detonate. The fifth victim, Ken Kinard of Cocoa Beach, died early Thursday in a hospital burn unit.
"Right now, it's still a dangerous situation," said Lee County (search) sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Michael Maschmeier.
The workers were transferring the fireworks Wednesday when a series of powerful blasts erupted, shooting flames into the sky and shaking the ground.
"It just all happened at once," said Kevin McKenzie, who was mowing grass near the truck. "Immediately, it was all the fireworks going off with all the colors and the flames."
The fireworks were to be part of the annual Independence Day display Friday in nearby East Naples (search). Officials said the event had been canceled.
"It's just hard to believe," said Bonita Springs (search) City Manager Gary Price. "The event you're setting up for everybody's enjoyment to celebrate our anniversary of our country results in such tragedies."
The explosion occurred on a tip of vacant land at a state park in Bonita Springs, a city of about 30,000 near the Gulf of Mexico between Fort Myers and Naples.
Mary Mike Dearden, an employee of the Lover's Key Beach Club and Resort, said she felt the ground shake. Guests at the resort saw smoke and heard explosions from the park, less than a mile from the resort building.
"At the front desk we heard the explosion starting like a clap of thunder and then it kept rolling," she said. "As it rolled on it felt like a jet breaking the sound barrier, but it kept going and we knew it was something else."
Hours after the blast, smoke rose from a blackened pine tree and the charred remains of the two trucks, which had been parked back-to-back. A pickup truck that was parked a short distance away was also burned.
One woman was hospitalized in good condition, officials said. Officials said the survivor among those moving the fireworks was Anita Combs, believed to be from the St. Louis area, where the fireworks shipment originated.
The fireworks were from Sunset Fireworks (search) of Dittmer, Mo. A person who answered the phone at the company's main office said officials were on their way to the scene.
Price said the company had orchestrated the city's fireworks display last year. The city spent $20,000 for a planned 30-minute show this year, he said.
Lisa Douglass, a past president of the Naples Jaycees, said the civic organization had worked with the company for four years.
"These people that we've lost today are people that we've grown close to," Douglass said. "They put on the best fireworks display, in my opinion, that I've ever seen."
According to the company's Web site, Sunset Fireworks has been in the pyrotechnics business for more than 40 years and provided fireworks for organizations including Walt Disney World, Six Flags Theme Parks, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The company was sued in February by two workers who were injured in explosions that killed two others at a suburban St. Louis fireworks plant in November 1999.