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Buena Park Divided Over Proposed Ban on Fireworks

March 25, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

Buena Park community leaders are demanding that the city continue to allow the sale of legal fireworks and not impose a ban that was recommended last summer in response to the death of a 9-year-old boy struck by a stray bullet July 4.

Opponents of a ban say selling legal fireworks provides a budgetary lifeline for charities, and they note that Xavier Morales was not killed as a direct result of fireworks. But supporters of a ban say the clamor of fireworks can create an atmosphere for gunfire.

Buena Park is one of only five cities in Orange County that permits state-sanctioned "safe and sane" fireworks. The City Council will take up the issue at what is expected to be an emotional meeting at 5 p.m. today at City Hall.

Police Chief Gary Hicken said the question has "evenly split" the community. He said he'll voice support for the proposed ban, based on research done at the request of council members. "Was [Xavier Morales] killed by fireworks? No," Hicken said. "But was he killed indirectly by fireworks? Absolutely."

The Anaheim boy was at Boisseranc Park on Dale Street with his 17-year-old brother, two cousins and his brother's girlfriend last Independence Day.

Morales was several hundred feet from dozens of parked cars about 9 p.m. when he suddenly collapsed. A .22-caliber bullet passed through him and landed about 9 feet from the still conscious boy, where investigators would eventually find it, Hicken said.

Police have called the shooting a homicide and are offering a reward for information leading to an arrest.

Though it was originally believed that the shots were fired into the air, investigators have tracked the likely trajectory of the bullets and now think the gun was aimed at the cluster of cars. Three empty vehicles also were hit by gunfire, Hicken said.

"If fireworks were not masking the sound, that person would not have shot in the first place," said Hicken, who called for a ban soon after the boy's death.

A coalition of fireworks wholesalers and local nonprofit groups say that enforcement of an existing ban of fireworks in parks would have been enough to save Xavier's life.

The Buena Park Community Coalition plans to offer to pay for extra policing on the Fourth of July as well as for the city's cleanup after, group members said Monday.

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