The fireworks mortar that killed a Richland man Wednesday should have been sold only to someone with a professional license to use explosives based on government regulations.
It's not known where John S. Anderson, 61, bought the 3-inch-diameter mortar that malfunctioned and exploded near him when he went to check it. The Richland Police Department's bomb squad still is investigating the case.
Authorities have declined to say if the person who sold him the mortar could be charged. They also worry that others unaware of the strength of the devices could be injured or killed.
"They're playing with explosives instead of a firework," said Dan Johnson, chief deputy state fire marshal.
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Richland police and emergency responders arrived at Anderson's south Richland home Wednesday night after the mortar, about the size of a baseball, exploded on the ground with Anderson's family and friends nearby. He died at the scene.
Aerial fireworks are prohibited in Richland and aren't sold at local fireworks stands. Authorities said they have received tips on where Anderson got the fireworks, but Richland police spokesman Sgt. Mike Harrison declined Friday to talk more about the investigation.
Johnson said any fireworks mortar that is 2 inches in diameter or larger is professional grade and only can be sold to licensed pyrotechnicians.
And those cases typically are investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives because they could involve a federal crime.
A Tulalip tribal member was sentenced in February 2011 to two years probation with two months house detention and four months of work release for selling improvised explosives and fireworks on tribal land in 2009.
The items included tennis balls packed with gunpowder and powerful commercial-grade fireworks, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.
But improper use of such strong fireworks is another part of the problem, Johnson said.
People try to improvise their own firing tubes for mortars out of PVC pipe, which isn't designed to handle the explosions and can break into sharp flying pieces. The state fire marshal's office also generally gets hospital reports about injuries caused by fireworks.
"We're getting quite a few people who are injured who are holding the mortar tube," Johnson said.