A Calais man who died after lighting a fireworks mortar on his head did not intentionally do so, his fiancee said Monday.

Kara Hawley, 30, of Calais said her fiance, Devon Staples, was an outgoing person who liked to joke, and she believes he accidentally ignited a cigarette lighter while dancing with the fireworks mortar on his head at a July Fourth party at a friend’s house in the Washington County city. They were drinking, and Hawley said her fiance was probably “buzzed” from the alcohol.

Hawley, who was at the party where Staples died, said he also may have tripped, although she’s not sure because “everything happened so fast.”

“He fell to the ground. I still thought he was joking, playing around. I ran over and asked if he was OK, but he wasn’t,” said Hawley, who wept during a telephone interview Monday. She said the group called 911, but medical personnel determined he had already died by the time paramedics arrived.

Hawley said they were gathered on the porch of the friend’s house, and Staples was in the backyard when he joked about lighting the fireworks on his head.

“He would never intentionally do something like that. He was just trying to get us to laugh,” Hawley said.


When Staples, 22, lit the fireworks, Hawley said she saw it “fizzle” instead of shoot away from his head.

“I yelled at him to throw it, but it was too late,” Hawley said.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said an investigation into the incident showed that Staples’ death was accidental.

Thomas said he did not know the specific type of fireworks that killed Staples, but it was a “reloadable mortar.” Reloadable mortars include tubes and explosive shells that are placed in the tubes for launching, according to explanations of the products by fireworks retailers.

Thomas said fire officials are still counting the number of fireworks injuries in Maine stemming from the weekend, but estimated that they were in the range of eight to 12. Including the fireworks set off around the New Year’s holiday, 2015 will likely set a record for the number of fireworks injuries, Thomas said. There were 11 injuries in 2014. Before Maine legalized the sale of fireworks in 2012, injuries were in the low single digits, he said.

“If we had more than two in a whole year, that was worth noting,” Thomas said.


Staples’ mother, Kathleen Staples, said she is going to reach out to lawmakers about the possibility of tighter controls over fireworks, the Associated Press reported. The state should consider requiring safety training courses before allowing someone to use them, she said. She compared fireworks with other regulated items such as cars and guns.

“At least it’d be a little bit more than, ‘Here you go,'” Staples told the AP. “That’s an explosive. They didn’t just hand me a license and put me in the car.”

Democratic Rep. Michel Lajoie, a retired fire chief from Lewiston who has pushed to repeal Maine’s fireworks law in the past, said Monday that he’s considering trying to introduce another measure next year but acknowledged it faces long odds. Retailers have fiercely opposed any effort in the Legislature to restrict the use of fireworks.

Lajoie said even a ban might not prevent injuries and deaths, the AP reported.

“They’re going to say, ‘Well, you can’t regulate stupidity’ … and it’s true, you can’t. But the fact of the matter is you have to try something,” Lajoie said. “I’m not giving up.”

Hawley said Staples had planned to attend Washington County Community College in the fall to become a veterinary technician. He loved dogs, and would often work to reunite stray dogs with their owners. She said they would often dog-sit or train dogs, and had been thinking of starting a dog-sitting business.


In 2014, the couple moved to Florida, where Staples got a job at Disney World portraying characters such as Gaston, the villain from “Beauty and the Beast,” or Captain Hook from “Peter Pan.”

But Hawley said the work at Disney World was not consistent, and the couple moved back to Maine in November.

Staples was a former high school football player, a whitewater rafting guide and a fantasy gaming enthusiast. He played the card game Magic: The Gathering and the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, she said.

“I want people to know who he really was,” Hawley said. “If I got down or depressed over something, he would start dancing with me. He would always say that people can’t frown when they’re dancing.”

The couple got engaged on Feb. 2, and had thought about getting married at the courthouse a few weeks ago. But they decided instead to plan a formal wedding, and were saving up for the ceremony and reception, Hawley said.

“He was a family man. He wanted to make his family happy,” she said.

The family has set up a fundraising page to help defray the costs of a funeral.

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