Police / Fire

Online campaigns seek to help victims of Saturday fireworks accident

Separate Internet campaigns seek to raise money to help offset medical bills for two of the people injured during Independence Day accident

Fundraising campaigns have been started for Frankie Hernandez and Jose Vega, two of the half-dozen victims injured in a Fourth of July fireworks accident on Brigantino Drive in Hollister. 

At least six people were injured Saturday night when a mortar firework shot not upward, but into a group of people attending a block party at about 10:30 p.m. Four of the victims suffered burns from the explosion, but the other two suffered injuries so extensive, fundraisers have been set up to help their families with medical expenses.

"You never think this would happen at a kid friendly neighborhood party," said Elias Barocio, a family friend of Vega's who was at the block party when the incident took place. "Seeing people laying on the ground, kids yelling, people being carried inside the house to try and get treated right away is something out of a movie."

Hernandez, 12, was airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Family friend Anita Davis said Hernandez underwent a six-hour surgery on his left arm. "He has severe burns on his leg, stomach and both arms," said Davis, who noted Hernandez is expected to be hospitalized for another two to three weeks.

Vega, a husband and father of three, was rushed to a local emergency room for surgery on his right leg. The concussive force of the blast broke his fibula and tore his leg muscles. He's expected to be in the hospital for three to four months. Both his wife, Ana, and his daughter, Mia, were burned in the blast.

"Jose’s legs will never be the same. At one point the doctors were saying Jose was going to lose his leg," said Barocio. "They cut him open to release the pressure of his muscles. He has severe tissue and muscle damage and a fractured leg."

While Vega underwent the first surgery Saturday night, Barocio said doctors planned a second surgery for Thursday, July 8. "It’s to place muscles back together and bandage them. After that he will need at least one more surgery," said Barocio. "Right now the fear is that he won’t be able to move his leg or walk again."

Barocio said four adults and one child were hurt at the house in front of which Vega was injured, while Hernandez was a guest at the neighboring house. In addition to Vega's wife and his daughter, the additional victims in the blast included two women, ages 24 and 34, who were also burned. Barocio said he knew of a 29-year-old man who was still hearing loud buzzing sounds on Monday. There were approximately 30 people in the driveway where Vega was injured, and Barocio explained Vega and Hernandez took most of the explosive force, which would have injured others had they not been in the way of the blast.

"I do not know Frankie Hernandez, but my heart goes out to him and his family. He is in our prayers," said Barocio.

The block party was described by Barocio as a family-friendly annual event. As would be expected for neighborhood festivities, people were out and enjoying the evening. There were barbecue grills, a bounce house, tables full of food, chairs out to watch fireworks at Marguerite Maze Middle School. The partiers had a direct view of the Maze fireworks show.

"Nobody that I knew or talked to was there because they wanted to see illegal fireworks," said Barocio. "The illegal fireworks went off during the Maze show."

Then the accident happened, and the scene shifted from jubilation to tragedy. 

"People were crying and yelling. It was a nightmare to see," said Barocio. "Soon, I saw my brother and a friend carrying Jose and there was not a whole lot of reaction time for people to get out of the way. It all happened so fast. Every adult in the home was doing their part in trying to calm the injured as well as all of the crying children who have been traumatized by this event."

In addition to the fright and injuries, Barocio explained, "There were also multiple veterans at the block party and the mishap from the illegal fireworks triggered scenes from live combat they experienced."

Shawn Gregory Bourdet, 35, of Hollister, was arrested on-scene. The Hollister Police Department is investigating the incident, and anyone with information can call Officer Juan Guevara at 636-4330. 

Barocio said he didn't know Bourdet, noting, "The arrest was unfortunate because I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt anyone."

When asked about the fundraising campaigns, Barocio said, "I have seen many fundraising events and the community is very helpful when it comes to helping those affected by tragic events."

The hospital stays and surgeries are expected to cost well more than the fundraiser amounts. For the time being, friends and family of both Hernandez and Vega are looking for community help in covering the incoming bills. A bake sale fundraiser is in the works for both families.

To help Frankie Hernandez, visit: http://www.youcaring.com/frankie-hernandez-386321
To help Jose Vega, visit: http://www.gofundme.com/ypcxys

Sean Roney

Sean is a writer and photographer from California’s Central Coast. He began reporting for BenitoLink in 2015. Sean received his BA in communication from CSU Monterey Bay and he has covered news stories in San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Clara counties. He enjoys traveling California to meet interesting people as well as visit breathtaking places, and is always happy to sit down and share stories. In his free time, Sean enjoys cycling, bikepacking, and novel writing.