Suspected fireworks in multiple northeast Ohio explosions that killed 4 people in less than a year

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) — In the summer of 2022, three people died in an explosion at a home in Garfield Heights where investigators discovered illegal fireworks. Last February, an 18-year-old died in a Wickliffe explosion; fireworks and ammunition were later found at the scene.

Eight months, two explosions, four deaths and still many questions.

According to federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the frequency of these explosions has remained relatively stable.

“The concern we have [is] people trying to make their own fireworks,” said Daryl McCormick, special agent in charge of the ATF field office in Columbus. “They will try to make a brighter, brighter fireworks display. As a result, there are more explosive materials and it is more dangerous.

McCormick couldn’t discuss specific cases or investigations, but was able to offer 19 News some insight into those situations.

“When there is a significant amount of [explosive material], it doesn’t take much to get a detonation and you can have catastrophic results,” he said. “The impact of an explosive device – you can’t take it back. It’s forever.

Last June, Donald Malinowski, 64, Gerald Bateman, 57, and Cassandra Bateman, 37, died in an explosion in the 4900 block of East 81st Street in Garfield Heights.

State investigators believe the explosives were made inside the home.

On February 26, 18-year-old Nathan Greger died in a garage explosion in Wickliffe.

Police said novelty items or old military surplus were recovered, including several hollow hand grenade shells, as well as fireworks-related equipment.

“I’ve worked on several of these cases and what I’ve found most often is curiosity. Build your own device,” McCormick said, when asked what their investigations revealed about the motivation behind keeping and storing explosives. “I’ve seen people rip them up and try to make bigger versions of [them] with material from many shells in a larger device…I would say curiosity, excitement, that’s normally the driving factor.

According to the ATF, there were 87 explosions caused by pyrotechnics or fireworks in the United States in 2021, the last year of public reporting. The bureau does not release specific numbers for individual states.

Nationwide, there were 428 fireworks-related explosions in 2020 and 251 in 2019.

“I understand it to some extent, but there are safe ways to do it. That’s what we encourage,” McCormick told 19 News. “It’s not just a safety factor for the individual. You can make a bad choice for yourself, but it has an impact on your neighbors, your family.

The Wickliffe explosions are still under investigation.


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