BY A. COLLEEN DeGUZMAN AND FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
With New Year’s Day drawing closer, local authorities are asking merrymakers to celebrate with caution.
Investigator John David Franz of the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office emphasized that though firework-popping is allowed in the county, it isn’t permissible in city areas.
“Make sure that if you are using fireworks that you check with your local authorities that you are within a jurisdiction that allows it,” Franz said. “It is only in the unincorporated parts of the county where people can pop fireworks.”
He also noted that though introducing the new decade calls for grand festivities, residents, especially those celebrating in large groups, should take extra caution while lighting fireworks.
“When you are in a large group of people, sometimes it is difficult to have control over what’s happening,” Franz said. “But always, especially tomorrow, be responsible with how you celebrate. Safety should always come first.”
According to the National Council on Firework Safety, revelers should only ignite one firework at a time and stay at least 25 yards away from ground-based explosives, and 75 yards from aerial displays. The organization also prompts the public to never carry fireworks in pockets or shoot them in metal or glass containers.
Additionally, spent fireworks and debris should be soaked in water and disposed in metal trash cans. The council, and Franz, also advise the public to read and follow the instructions of fireworks and be aware of the cautionary statements on labels before igniting.
“Don’t buy from anyone who is not a reputable dealer, and don’t be doing homemade fireworks or making any modifications,” he said. “And don’t be trying to relight duds — take those out with water.”
Franz added that he hopes everyone has fun welcoming the new year, and is mindful of how to celebrate wisely.
“Have a very safe and happy New Year, we want to kick (in) 2020 right and make sure people enjoy and do it safely, and responsibly.”
For others, celebratory gunfire is also a cause for alarm around this time of year.
Mary Lopez of Mission said that celebratory gunfire is an issue that her and her family must deal with year-round, but the holidays seem to inspire more frequents incidents around her neighborhood.
“Oh my gosh, it’s like every other night or every night there’s gunshots,” Lopez said. “Some sound like they’re automatic. I don’t know anything about guns. Nothing. We don’t have them at the house. I don’t believe in them. I’m scared of them.
“Last night I couldn’t sleep. For an hour-and-a-half, it was non stop. I know the difference. I know when it’s a gunshot. On New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July, it doesn’t even have to be a special occasion, they’ll start shooting. I don’t let my kids outside.”
Though Lopez’s concerns about celebratory gunfire have not led to any injuries, a local representative witnessed firsthand the dangers of it a couple years ago.
Just after midnight in 2017, state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco was struck in the head by a stray bullet. The incident required immediate surgery to remove the bullet from his skull.
Martinez would go on to introduce legislation on celebratory gunfire, proposing a bill that would’ve made it a Class A misdemeanor. If an individual was struck by stray gunfire, the charge would’ve been upgraded to a first-degree felony. The bill, however, did not pass.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said that his department gets flooded with calls from concerned citizens wanting to report celebratory gunfire. He noted that in most cases, the individuals may confuse the sound of gunfire with fireworks.
In any case, Guerra said that his deputies will continue to patrol and monitor for gunfire in colonias and rural areas of Hidalgo County.
“If we see individuals who are shooting, or if we get calls, we will take reports in case later on we get a call about someone who’s gotten hurt from celebratory gunfire. We’ll know who was out there doing that,” Guerra said.
The sheriff added that there is a violation called trespass by projectile. He explained that if an individual fires a bullet from a firearm and the projectile crosses a property line, the individual could be cited with a Class C misdemeanor. If the projectile causes harm to another individual, then the shooter could face deadly conduct charges.
The sheriff added that if stray bullets are discovered on someone else’s property, deputies will collect the projectile and have it examined.
“Later on, if it’s matched to a certain weapon, then we can make a case,” Guerra said.
Guerra also took a moment to remind drivers that his deputies will be on the lookout for impaired drivers.
“We ask that if you are going to celebrate the New Year consuming alcohol, please plan ahead,” Guerra said. “You can have a designated driver, rideshare programs, taxis, but definitely have a plan to get home safe if you’re going to be celebrating with any kind of alcoholic beverage. We ask that you don’t bring in the New Year with a DWI arrest or possibly hurt somebody or yourself.”