Fireworks tragedy in Athens
Family dog jars table causing canister-shell tube to fall; round hits 7-year-old boy in chest, stopping his heart
By Holly Hollman
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ATHENS — For a father and mother, the sun has set, and for a neighborhood, hearts are broken, with the death of a 7-year-old boy in a fireworks accident.
The sun set and the hearts broke, Athens Mayor Dan Williams said, when Paxon Thomas Jordan died Thursday after the family's bulldog jarred the table holding a lit mortar-type firework. The canister fell, and the firework sailed 30 feet into Paxon's chest, killing the Cowart Elementary student, authorities said.
"This has just killed our neighborhood," said Williams, who lives in West Gate Subdivision near the Jordan family. "His parents are distraught. It's like the sun has gone out in their world. Their faith is being tested, but they are strong, and their family and neighbors will do all we can to help ease their grief."
The parents, Shannon and Beth Jordan, declined to speak to reporters.
Police Lt. Floyd Johnson said Paxon was their only child.
"As you can imagine, it's a terrible time for them right now," Johnson said.
"This is something you hope never happens to any child, much less one of our own students," said Athens Superintendent Orman Bridges Jr. "We feel for the family, and our hearts go out to them. It is just a tragic story."
Paxon, his father and a 13-year-old neighbor were shooting fireworks at the Jordans' Clearview Street home when the accident happened. They had fireworks called Smoke-N-Mirrors, which use reloadable canister shells.
Assistant Fire Chief Danny Southard said the launch tube shoots one firework at a time. The firework is a cylinder, about 2 inches in diameter, and flat on both ends.
It has a long fuse that hangs out of the launch tube.
"You reload the tube every time you shoot one," Southard said. "The fuse is long enough so you can light it and stand back."
Police Capt. Marty Bruce said Shannon Jordan put the launch tube on a table in the backyard. Jordan lit the fuse and walked to stand by Paxon, who was 30 feet away.
"As the round was about to launch, the family dog brushed against the table and knocked the round over," Bruce said. "The round struck Paxon in the chest above his heart."
The firework then exploded three feet from where Paxon fell. He did not sustain any burns.
Coroner Mike West said the impact caused pericardial tamponade. He explained that when the firework struck Paxon's chest, it caused trauma to the heart, like when a baseball hits a player in the chest. The sac surrounding his heart filled with blood and caused his heart to stop beating.
Bruce said that as Beth Jordan drove Paxon to Athens-Limestone Hospital, Shannon Jordan performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Paxon was pronounced dead at 9:50 p.m. The accident occurred at 8:58 p.m.
Southard said the state fire marshal's office took the unspent fireworks. He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will conduct tests on them to determine how fast they travel and how much powder they contain.
Johnson said the agencies are conducting the tests as a routine part of the investigation into the accident. It is illegal to own or shoot fireworks in the city, but police are not citing the family. Johnson and the mayor said the family took every safety precaution.
"It was just a freak accident, something you would never think of happening," Williams said.
Paxon's life touched many in his subdivision, and his death has brought out kindness in his neighbors. Williams said one neighborhood family was en route to Gulf Shores when they received word of Paxon's death.
"They had made it as far as Montgomery and turned around to come back," Williams said. "This is a close-knit neighborhood, and we're going to do all we can for the family."
Williams said Paxon's home was the meeting place for the neighborhood children, including Williams' grandchildren.
"They played soccer and ball in the yard," Williams said. "A lot of kids gathered there. You wonder why something so bad could happen to good people."
Why did a boy who celebrated his seventh birthday Sunday, lose his life on Thursday?
The "why" is something police, firefighters and neighbors cannot answer for the Jordans.
"You know, the last time I saw him was Thursday night," Williams said. "My family and I were leaving to go to my son's home. Paxon was riding by on his bike."
Paxon waved at the Williams family. That was at 7 p.m.
"Two or three hours later I was at the hospital trying to comfort grieving parents," Williams said.
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