A 55-year-old Traverse City man faces up to 90 days in jail on a charge that he set the fuse of a mortar round while under the influence of alcohol and the firework landed on a pontoon boat, scorched the deck, and caused $1,200 in damage.
But the case of James William Goodyear, who was arraigned on the misdemeanor charge Aug. 19 stemming from the July 5 incident, is a rare one.
Most people who light off exploding fireworks either stay within the rules, or close enough that there aren’t consequences.
Goodyear’s is possibly the only fireworks case in Grand Traverse County in almost two summers under a new, more permissive state fireworks law, Prosecutor Bob Cooney said.
“I believe that this is the first time this year, anyway, that I know we’ve charged a misdemeanor fireworks violation,” Cooney said.
Instead, despite a patchwork of local laws that make the discharge of exploding or flying fireworks okay one place but against a local ordinance elsewhere, fireworks have generated noise complaints, but apparently not a lot of other trouble in Northern Michihan.
A PATCHWORK OF ORDINANCES
If for some people it is unclear what is allowed and what is not allowed under current state law, that’s because the legislature left it to local governments like townships, villages and cities to pass more restrictive laws governing when fireworks can be ignited.
On national holidays like Labor Day, Christmas or the Fourth of July, local governments cannot ban fireworks; they can only bar them from being set off late at night. That also goes for the day before and the day after the holiday.
Other days, local governments can ban them.
Cooney said in Grand Traverse County more restrictive ordinances have been passed in Traverse City, Garfield Township, Acme Township, Peninsula Township, East Bay Township, and the village of Fife Lake.
“This is one of those rural versus urban” issues, Cooney said. “I think the more rural townships are less apt to want to pass a fireworks ordinance.”
In a case where someone is intoxicated and lights off fireworks, a person can be charged with misdemeanor violation of the state fireworks law no matter what day it is. Penalties are stiffer if there is property damage, and if a serious injury results, a felony can be charged.
Violations of the local ordinances, on the other hand, are civil infractions, similar to speeding tickets, which only carry fines. Penalties are more serious, however, if a person attempts to thwart an investigation or retaliates against someone who makes a complaint, Cooney said.
ONLY WARNINGS IN LEELANAU
In Leelanau County, deputies this summer have taken an educational approach to the new law, Undersheriff Steve Morgan said. Because there is still confusion about where and when exploding fireworks can be ignited, they’ve handed out warnings instead of tickets.
Most of the townships in Leelanau County have passed ordinances that restrict fireworks to national holidays. The more uniform the rules are across the county, the easier the fireworks rules will be to enforce, Morgan said.
On a typical summer weekend, deputies in Leelanau County get around a half dozen fireworks complaints, according to the department’s online summary of complaints.
Some weekends are busier: on Saturday, July 13, for example, there were seven illegal fireworks complaints in the span of just 90 minutes. By the time deputies arrived at those locations, which came from six different townships, the fireworks displays had ceased.
Leelanau County Prosecutor Joseph Hubbell said most townships have passed uniform fireworks ordinances. He said Solon, Kasson and Leelanau townships have not passed ordinances.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET CHARGED?
In the Grand Traverse County misdemeanor fireworks case, charges were filed after a sheriff’s deputy determined that Goodyear appeared to have been intoxicated when he shot off fireworks, according to a police report.
Deputies were called out to Spider Lake at around 6 p.m. July 5 after a witness said a firework landed on his pontoon boat and scorched his carpet, causing around $1,200 in damages.
The neighbor told deputies that he and his wife were out on their boat at 3 or 4 that afternoon, docked with some other boats near an island, when Goodyear arrived.
The witness said Goodyear wanted to set off mortar fireworks rounds over the objection of others gathered at the island.
The neighbor said “boaters, swimmers, people on the beach objected” because the fireworks were too close to people and their boats, according to the report.
He said Goodyear retorted: “I own the lake and I can do whatever I want,” and then shot two more rounds from his boat, using a foot-long tube with three-inch diameter. He lit the fuses with a propane torch.
The witness said that after his boat was damaged Goodyear told him: “send me the bill, I own the lake,” according to the police report.
FIREWORKS FOR THE CHILDREN
The law makes it a crime to set off fireworks while intoxicated.
It’s a 30-day misdemeanor, or a 90-day misdemeanor if the fireworks cause property damage. Cooney said the law does not specifically define intoxication.
Another witness described Goodyear as belligerent and intoxicated as he lit off fireworks, according to the police report.
The woman told police Goodyear insisted upon setting of the fireworks for the sake of the neighborhood children. The woman also said Goodyear drank around eight beers while he was out on his boat, according to the report.
Goodyear denied drinking prior to lighting off the mortar rounds in an interview with a deputy, but the deputy who wrote the report said he “slurred his speech, smelled of intoxicants and had bloodshot, watery eyes.”
He was asked to take a breath test which, according to the report, upset Goodyear. The deputy told Goodyear he would seek a fireworks violation charge against and the suspect “yelled at me and told me to do whatever I wanted to do,” the deputy wrote.
Goodyear did not return a message seeking comment.
PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERN
Cooney said there have also been a couple of civil infraction tickets issued in Grand Traverse County, but confusion over the new ordinances caused those tickets to be dismissed.
“The reason this seems like a patchwork is because the counties weren’t given the authority to regulate fireworks, it was local municipalities, townships and villages, cities,” he said. “We’ve got East Bay that passed their ordinance, we’ve got another ordinance that was passed in Garfield Township, another ordinance passed in the Village of Fife Lake, and they all may be slightly different. I think they tend to be very similar.”
In Grand Traverse County, as elsewhere, Cooney said his office and the sheriff’s department have agreed to enforce the local ordinances.
“I thought it was important because the law in Michigan, up until 2012, was these fireworks were illegal, and there was a good reason for that. There were concerns about safety, kids getting their hand blown off, fires being started,” he said.