Kevin Skubic looks in the mirror and thanks God he is alive.
His face bares the scars and broken bones of his brush with death. Shrapnel wounds dot his body from head to toe. Then it gets worse for the Akron bricklayer.
His left forearm and hand are gone. Surgeons saved right arm, moving veins and skin from his thigh to restore blood flow. And the arm works.
His right eye is badly damaged, but it can be saved with more surgery. He can barely hear out of either ear, but they will get better in two years or so.
He’s been hospitalized since July 1. That’s when 50 “quarter sticks” of high-powered fireworks exploded as Skubic carried them outside a Grand Avenue home in Akron. The eruption could be heard for blocks and the shock waves rattled nearby houses, knocking out windows across the street.
“I had the best Fourth of July this year. It’s just a life-changing Fourth of July,” Skubic, 34, said Monday during an interview at Akron Children’s Hospital. “I’m lucky to be here. I know I’m blessed.”
Skubic said he has been buying and setting off fireworks for years from Wayne Jones Sr., 65, who is charged with making the explosives that injured Skubic. Jones is free on bond awaiting trial on the felony charges.
Akron police officers and agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms searched Jones’ home after the explosion and said they seized a large amount of chemicals and components used to make fireworks. Jones’ attorney could not be reached for comment.
Skubic said he was walking outside Jones’ home with a bag of 50 quarter sticks he just purchased for $4 a piece. Each quarter stick measured 3 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter.
Such devices, which are more powerful than the M-80s that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, are outlawed across the U.S. because of the danger they pose.
John Sorgi, owner of American Fireworks in Hudson, said the power of a typical quarter stick can be compared to a small stick of dynamite. The actual strength, he said, depends on the amount of flash powder used.
The explosive power is the reason such devices are not sold commercially. As a result, quarter sticks and other large-scale explosives are sometimes made in people’s basements and sold on the street.
“Honestly, they’re just dangerous. They can do some serious damage,” Sorgi said. “It’s basically dynamite. If he said 50 [quarter sticks], that’s a pretty large amount.”
Skubic said the fireworks were in a plastic grocery bag when he noticed smoke coming from inside as he was approaching his pickup truck parked outside Jones’ home.
There were kids playing outside, so he said he tried to throw the bag into his truck’s cab. It exploded about the same time.
“It just blew up right in my face,” he said. “I looked down and my arm was hanging off...I thought it was over for me. The fact is I’ve done this a long time. I know how powerful they are. One can kill you and I had 50 go off at once.”
Jessica Jira, 25, was with Skubic at the time. She was walking around the truck when the eruption happened. When she checked on her friend, his massive injuries were obvious, though she didn’t want to look.
“It was really hard to see,” she recalled.
Paramedics arrived and took Skubic for treatment, first to Akron General Medical Center and then to the burn unit at Children’s. Skubic said his thoughts of surviving were driven by images of his daughters, Kaela, 10 and Kallie, 6.
Skubic’s doctor gave credit to the first responders who provided initial care. The injuries, Dr. Mark McCollum said, were clearly severe.
“From a burn stand point, it’s a very manageable injury. From the blast and initial trauma, it’s obviously a life-threatening injury and Kevin’s lucky to be with us,” McCollum said.
For the first six days of treatment, Skubic was in a medically-induced coma as doctors went about their job of saving his life and repairing his tattered limbs.
“I didn’t think I’d make it, but I wanted to make it, that’s why I didn’t fall asleep [right after the explosion] because I have my daughters to raise and I needed to make it,” he said.
Skubic’s recovery will be long. Friends are helping him and his family with fund raisers. A fund in his name has been established at all First Merit bank branches. Doctors intend to fit him at some point with a prosthetic left arm and Skubic hopes to return to work.
For now, Skubic is practicing becoming right-handed.
In past years, he said he always celebrated the Fourth by launching his own fireworks. Now, he intends to volunteer at Children’s and tell everyone about the dangers of blowing off fireworks or buying the devices off the street.
“I take responsibility for what I bought,” he said. “I’m living a different life from now on because of it.
“There’s a reason why they don’t sell [high-powered] fireworks around here. You can get hurt. You can lose an arm or a leg, whatever, and your family has to deal with the outcome.”
By Phil Trexler - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2013 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services