$10 illegal firework leads to $500,000 in medical bills




Posted on July 5, 2013 at 4:39 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 5 at 4:41 AM

A Des Moines man nearly killed by illegal fireworks is on a mission to make sure others don’t make the same bad decision.

John Watts, 31, learned the hard way. A $10 firework has cost him nearly $500,000 in medical treatment.

“When I hear some (fireworks), it gets my heart racing. It still gets me scared,” said Watts.

On New Year’s Eve, Watts and his friends were shooting off illegal fireworks. He lit a mortar and stepped away when it suddenly exploded.

“I don’t remember much,” he said.

He woke up in the hospital days later in critical condition, almost unrecognizable. The blast exploded his ear drums, detached his right eye and blew a hole in the side of his cheek. He also lost three fingers and part of a thumb.

“It’s tough. It’s the toughest thing in the world. 30 years of having something, it goes away,” said Watts.

After 21 reconstructive surgeries, Watts still feels sharp shooting pains and numbness.

“I’m forever in pain,” he said.

Watts went door-to-door in his neighborhood, teaching others about his mistake. He hopes his story can spare others.

“If I could have one (person) think twice when I didn’t do it, I would be forever grateful,” said Watts.

Greg Zamora and his family live down the street. He’s thankful for the reminder.

“If that happened to a grown guy, what would you expect with a little kid?” said Zamora.

“You have to think about what really can happen and not what makes you look cool,” said Karen Zamora, Greg’s 12-year-old daughter.

Education has become therapy for Watts. He hopes to set an example for strangers and his 6-year-old son.

“I don’t want to touch one, light one or be part of one again,” he said.