The kickoff to the New Year in the Bronx started with a bang – a verrry, verrry big bang.
A mesh metal garbage can stuffed with commercial fireworks detonated about 11 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30 in Pelham Bay Park next to Spencer Estate/Country Club, breaking nearby windows, shaking houses and sending hundreds of scared residents from their homes in the quiet neighborhood, wondering if a disaster had struck.
The 911 emergency call line was flooded with “hundreds of calls,” with the noise of the blast so loud, that Westchester residents were calling the county emergency hotline, officials said.
Police said the trash can was placed on homeplate at the baseball field just inside the park north of Middletown Road and stuffed with commercial “mortar rounds” of the type used in fireworks displays. One round was recovered unignited.
The NYPD Arson-Explosion Squad is investigating.
The NY Post, quoting sources, reported the fireworks were set off “by local punks celebrating “Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato’s release from prison” after serving a term related to the 2005 killing of Police Officer Daniel Enchautegui outside his Pelham Bay home. Local police could not confirm the report.
The blast shook homes and broke windows in Pelham Bay around 11 p.m. on Dec. 30, just hours before Brancato was sprung. He served eight years for a 2005 burglary that ended in the murder of NYPD Detective Daniel Enchautegui.
John Flow, who lives one block away above a deli on Ampere Avenue, was shaken awake by his wife just after the blast.
He knew something was wrong when he noticed his bedroom mirror had fallen to the floor. Outside, he spotted something strange on his front steps.
“This metal piece of garbage had flown in front of my house,” he said.
The home next door had two windows knocked out by the blast.
“My bed went airborne,” said Josephine Zimmer, who lives at Middletown and Ohm Avenues. “It felt like something in my house had blown up.”
“We just heard this crazy boom, and then everyone was outside asking their neighbors, making sure people were okay,” said 23-year-old Mike Morano, who lives with his family on nearby Stadium Avenue.
Richard Camplone, 53, a psychotherapist who lives on Griswold Avenue a block away from the park, was laying down “when I just heard this tremendous explosion. The whole house shook and a large mirror fell off the wall. It felt like a plane crash or a big bomb.”
He and others noted hearing a similar, but less earthshaking explosion in the park about three weeks ago.
The next day, State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein announced he will introduce legislation that would dramatically increase penalties for vandals who set-off fireworks explosions causing more than $1,000 in property damage or public panic. Assemblyman Michael Benedetto will sponsor the legislation in the Assembly.
“New Year’s Eve should be a time for public celebration, not panic and fear,” said Klein. “Last night’s explosion was terrifying and has no place in any community. “If these types of vandals think they can get away with a slap on the wrist, they’re dead wrong.”
Benedetto said it is important “that we send a message to all who think something like this is a ‘fun prank’. It is anything but. Terrifying our residents in the middle of the night is anything but fun and they should be held responsible.”
Currently, an individual who illegally explodes fireworks faces a maximum of 15 days in jail. But under the proposed legislation, an individual who illegally explodes fireworks and causes $1,000 or more in property damage or public panic would face a sentence of between 1- 4 years in prison. The legislation would elevate the offense from a violation to a Class E felony.