Seven of 28 citations for illegal fireworks paid, 30-day grace for others to pay or appeal

People had 30 days to pay or appeal citations handed out on the Fourth of July, then another 30 days grace before being taken to court

A recent television news report told of San Jose citizens who were having to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars in fines for illegal fireworks, often based on anonymous reports called in by neighbors rather than eye-witnessed by police or fire authorities.

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick and Hollister Fire Marshall Carlos Bedolla said that won’t happen here. Westrick said it’s a matter of the U.S. Constitution that gives citizens the right to confront their accuser. Bedolla said every ticket that Hollister police or fire personnel issued was only after they personally witnessed the people with the fireworks.

“We only wrote citations that we actually saw lighting them or were in possession of them,” Westrick said. “I would have a huge problem going on the word of a person who is not an expert. It would be really difficult for us prosecute that.”

Bedolla, who runs the city's code enforcement department, noted, “There was no dispute because we had our eyes on them. Initially, there was some talk about mailing them out, but we decided to go out and patrol, and as we caught people we confiscated their stuff and wrote the citations.”

Four fire department personnel assisted the police department patrolling in unmarked city cars as they were on the lookout for illegal fireworks, those being fired in the air. Bedolla said fire personnel used the app provided by the police department and were also dispatched by the police.

“We were in unmarked cars, but there was also a patrol officer,” he said. “When we went somewhere in neighborhoods where they ran calls we went along with a PD who was in a marked car, so they (residents) know we’re legit.”

He said fire personnel wrote seven out of the 28 citations.

“We collected all the fireworks, packaged them up and we’re waiting for a state fire marshal or other representative from the state to pick them up,” Bedolla said. “We had 50 pounds of illegal fireworks. We had a lot of paraphernalia that goes with the fireworks, like mortar tubes, which we just through away.”

He described the effort, as far as it went, as a success, but determined that under current resources it’s nearly an impossible mission to carry out fully.

“It’s hard for us to be able to find them,” Bedolla said. “We were in some undercover cars and were able to catch people in the act. Next year, we know we need to at least double up to get 10 to 15 patrols out there, so we’re not paying overtime. I issued citation two days prior to the Fourth of July, but our main focus was the Fourth and that will probably remain our focus because of the rally.”

One of the areas hardest hit by illegal fireworks was La Baig Estates near Marguerite Maze Middle School, according to Bedolla. “They ended up having a vehicle fire due to the illegal fireworks. We cited someone at the house on the other side from where this vehicle was, then around midnight it caught fire.”

Bedolla said of the 28 citations, seven had been paid by Aug. 16, when they were first due. Those who did not pay their fines will receive a courtesy 30-day extension. If they still have not paid by Sept. 15, legal action will be taken in small claims court. They can also challenge the citation. So far, he knows that two people have done so, one on a hardship basis and the second who claims he was not the person with the illegal fireworks. Twenty-six of the citations were for $1,000 and two were for $250.

“Everyone has a right to an administrative hearing, but you have to pay the citation first,” he said. “You go through the hearing before a non-biased officer, which is arranged by the City Clerk’s office.”

The Hollister Police Department announced in late June that it would, for the first time, patrol Hollister to enforce illegal fireworks rules. On July 7, the Hollister Fire Department reported there were four fires related to fireworks. On the same day, the police reported  citations had been issued after a mother and child narrowly escaped injury. Westrick credited the success of the operation to the use of a new FOREalert app that gave residents the opportunity to report illegal fireworks in their neighborhoods.


John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]