Sunday, June 29, 1997
A week before Fourth of July celebrations in the city, fireworks were hard to come by in Chinatown. Not even a measly firecracker could be had.
The young men hanging around shops on Mott St. eyed a stranger warily. No, he didn’t have fireworks, said one. Not anymore. He didn’t know where to get any, either.
“Too dangerous,” he said. “Too many cops all over place.”
And he was right.
Chinatown once was notorious for barkers loudly hawking fireworks out in the open. Cars and vans and trucks would arrive on Mott St., loading up with everything from Roman candles to M-80s, M-100s, to M-1000s, which are quarter sticks of dynamite. Not anymore.
This year cops blanketed the neighborhood with leaflets warning people to stay away from fireworks and to report anyone suspected of selling them.
Additionally, a police van with loudspeakers on its roof has cruised Chinatown warning that fireworks are illegal.
The message blares: Have a safe and happy Fourth of July and help cops save fingers, hands and lives by calling (800) FIRE-TIPS to turn in those selling fireworks.
It has been like this for months.
A gift shop owner said he didn’t sell fireworks, didn’t know anyone who did and added he doubted any fireworks could be had in all of Chinatown these days.
“It’s too risky,” he said. “They could take your store from you. And if you sell fireworks out of the back of your car, they’ll take that, too.”
Recognizing New York as a major destination of bulk fireworks, where they are distributed for street peddling, police began a crackdown this year and concentrated on stopping fireworks before they got within city limits.
By cooperating with law enforcement authorities in Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, cops assigned to the city fireworks interdiction teams have seized 25,443 cases of fireworks, with a street value of more than $50 million, said Deputy Inspector Michael Brooks.
Brooks, who heads vice enforcement, said at least 22,000 cases of fireworks were seized outside the city. Last year, 9,500 cases were seized.
Here are some examples: A city fireworks interdiction team, assisted by Nassau County cops, stormed the residence of a Seaford, L.I., man last Thursday. After evacuating five homes surrounding Lawrence Guarino’s residence, cops seized 515 cases of fireworks valued at $400,000.
Guarino was charged with reckless endangerment, criminal possession and criminal storage of explosives.
A week earlier, the commander of the interdiction team, Lt. Al Pignataro, was off duty driving on the Long Island Expressway when he noticed a rental truck with an orange, diamond-shape plaque, identifying the vehicle as carrying fireworks.
The truck, carrying 325 cases of Class B fireworks, did not have a Fire Department permit for the load. The driver, Edward Varucene, 42, of Southampton, was charged with reckless endangerment.
And yesterday Brooklyn detectives, acting on an informant’s tip, arrested 31-year-old Carlos Mutt, who had more than $10,000 worth of fireworks and was selling them from a Putnam Ave. address, police said.
“Fireworks are no longer sold in New York City the way they were once sold,” Brooks said. “They’ve been completely driven underground.”
Firefighters responded to 1,364 fireworks-related fires in 1991, compared with 345 last year. Injuries were reduced to 38 last year from 56 in 1995.
Most of the injuries occur on and around the Fourth of July, said Dr. Armen Kasabian, chief of microsurgery at Bellevue Hospital.
“We were seeing M-1000 blasts, whole hands blown off,” he said.
Last year, Kasabian said, Bellevue treated just three minor fireworks-related injuries over the holiday.