1. News

Firework that killed Tampa teen illegal but available

Joseph M. King, 16, was killed after a mortar-style firework blew up in his hand Thursday on the 4200 block of East Osborne Avenue. King, who would have been a junior at Middleton High School in the fall, was visiting a family member's house at the time and lived about a mile away with his mother and two sisters, said his great aunt, Brenda Brantley. [Photo courtesy Brenda Brantley]
Published Jul. 6, 2018

TAMPA — Just before 11 p.m. Thursday, Joseph M. King clutched a powerful cylinder in his hand.

The mortar shell firework was supposed to be fired from the ground. But King, 16, was holding the tube and attempting to launch when it detonated, Tampa police said.

The force of the explosion caused what police called "significant injury" to his left hand and left side of his chest. Witnesses were tending to King as officers arrived. He was pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital a short time later.

The type of firework that killed King is illegal in Florida but is commonly sold in stores and at roadside stands because of a loophole in Florida law.

When the explosion happened, King was in front of a house in the 4200 block of East Osborne Avenue in the Northview Hills neighborhood. The soaked remnants of a bottle rocket lay on a sidewalk leading to the home Friday. A lone white latex glove sat shriveled in the gutter.

A man and woman sitting on the porch of the home declined to speak to the Tampa Bay Times.

King lived in a house about a mile away, on 35th Street. Relatives gathered outside the home Friday declined to comment.

RELATED : Yes, most fireworks are illegal in Florida. No, that doesn't stop anyone. Here's why.

In a phone interview, King's great aunt, Brenda Brantley, said King was the youngest of three siblings and lived with his mother, Mary Keys, and two older sisters. He attended Greco Middle School and would have been a junior at Middleton High in the fall.

She described King as a jokester who liked to rap and use a Playstation. He had a special bond with the great-grandmother he called Granny.

"Everybody he met will remember him," said Brantley, 60. "You just loved being around him because he was a lot of fun."

Brantley said King was at a family member's house at the time of the explosion.

Key questions remained unanswered Friday. Police initially reported that King intended to launch the device while he was holding it. Later, a Tampa Police Department spokesman said investigators were still working to confirm details.

"It was lit while he was holding it, that is the information we have right now," spokesman Eddy Durkin said in an email. "Detectives are still working with witnesses to determine what, exactly, he was doing at the time the firework detonated."

It was also unclear how and where King got the firework, and if any adults were present. Detectives were working to determine what, if any, criminal charges would apply, Durkin said.

All fireworks, defined as anything that leaves the ground or explodes, have been illegal to sell or set off in Florida since 1941. The exceptions are those who get a permit from the local government, are illuminating railroads, or are buying them for "agricultural use" to frighten birds away from crops.

Consumers in Florida who buys fireworks at roadside tents and standalone stores sign a form saying they're familiar with Florida's fireworks laws. The state law does not set a minimum age for buyers, but sellers such as Phantom Fireworks and Galaxy Fireworks require buyers to sign forms stating the customer is at least 18 years old.

Nick Ruiz, manager of the Phantom store on Gandy Boulevard, said the company requires all customers to hand over identification to prove their age.

"Any customer is going to have present a government-issued ID to purchase fireworks," Ruiz said.

Still, statistics show fireworks are especially lethal to young people.

Eight people died from fireworks-related incidents in the United States in 2017 and about 12,900 were injured, according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report. About half of those injured were younger than 20, and more than third were younger than 16, the report shows. An average of roughly seven people have died annually since 2002.

Contact Tony Marrero at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.


  1. Integrity Express Logistics, which is expanding its Tampa office, matches freight with trucks to haul it in 48 states and Canada. (DANNY JOHNSTON | Associated Press) DANNY JOHNSTON  |  AP
    The company plans to hire at least 50 more employees and to spend $230,000 on renovations and new office equipment.
  2. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView use ground penetrating radar technology to scan a portion of King High campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. Courtesy of Lynn Cristina
    Why would I discourage my daughters’ creativity and drive? Aside from being lazy, I was trying to shield them from disappointment.
  4. Phase 1A of the project includes closing W Cass Street from N Willow Avenue to N Boulevard. DIVYA KUMAR  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A stormwater system improvement project has resulted in fewer customers frequenting Cass Street businesses in North Hyde Park.
  5. James Rybicki, 63, faces charges of lewd and lascivious molestation and possession of child pornography. But he could go free after a judge found that Pinellas sheriff’s detectives and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors lied to obtain a search warrant in his case. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A Pinellas sheriff’s detective and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors “made false statements” to obtain a search warrant, a judge has ruled. The evidence was thrown out.
  6. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member, concludes a day of testimony by key witnesses as it probes President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The United States ambassador to the European Union told the impeachment inquiry his efforts to press Ukraine to announce investigations were ordered by President Trump, and top officials knew.
  7. The woman was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and culpable negligence.
  8. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell during a hearing to review the guardianship cases once overseen by Traci Hudson, who faces criminal charges in one of those cases. Hudson was not present during Wednesday's hearing in a St. Petersburg courtroom. Pinellas sheriff's detectives say she stole more than $500,000 from an elderly man for whom she held power of attorney. Court records show she was appointed as a guardian in about two dozen cases. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Traci Hudson had served as guardian overseeing the affairs of 26 people until her arrest on a charge of exploitation of the elderly. Her handling of those cases will be reviewed.
  9. Robert "Bobby" Mavis, 40, top left, is shown in this family photo with his wife Elizabeth and their children, from left, Evan, Kendall and Kyle. The father of three died in the Nov. 13 chain-reaction crash on northbound Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County. Courtesy Elizabeth Mavis
    Robert “Bobby” Mavis, 40, was on his way home from work last week when a semi-trailer truck crashed into his Mercedes.
  10. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver Rekira Owens is seen at the wheel behind a newly installed shield as they board the bus on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Tampa.  The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed earlier this year. A bus driver on Tuesday was operating a vehicle without a shield when he was attacked by a rider. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times
    About 75 buses still need the clear, plastic doors. The transit authority plans to install eight a day.