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Teens and Homeowner Could Be Charged in Bonfire Explosion

An October 2022 bonfire explosion that injured up to 40 people at a homecoming party could mean felony charges against two teens and the homeowner.

According to Shawano County Sheriff’s officials, a 55-gallon drum one-quarter full of gas and diesel fuel was tossed on a Pulaski High School homecoming party bonfire in the Town of Maple Grove. The party began around 6 p.m., and the explosion occurred shortly before 11 p.m.

Investigators are recommending that a 17-year-old from Green Bay be charged with second-degree reckless injury and injury by negligent handling of fire. They also recommend the same charges in juvenile court for a 16-year-old.

The homeowner, who was present at the time of the bonfire, could also be charged in connection with the explosion.

The district attorney will decide whether to file charges.

Reckless Injury Is a Felony

Second-degree reckless injury denotes great bodily harm caused to another person. The adult crime is a Class F felony, punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to 12 years and 6 months in state prison. Injury by negligent handling of fire is a Class I felony. Penalties for this charge include fines up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 3 years and 6 months.

Great bodily harm means that the injury created a substantial risk of death, permanent disfigurement, loss or impairment of any body part, or other serious bodily injuries.

Wisconsin law defines criminal recklessness as when someone creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to another human being and they are aware of that risk.

Serious Injuries in Bonfire

Surprisingly, no 911 call was made. Instead, 17 people were privately transported to Green Bay hospitals. Seven people were flown to burn units in Milwaukee. Some of the injured were severely burned. About 60 people, including current and former students, attended the party.

Hospital staff alerted Green Bay Police to the incident. Green Bay Police notified the Shawano County Sheriff’s Office of the victims in the hospital around 1:10 a.m., a little more than two hours after the explosion.

Build a Strong Defense Against Reckless Injury Charges

The foundation behind a reckless injury charge is that the alleged offender knew their actions created an unreasonable and substantial risk of death. This threshold can be difficult to prove in court. Unfortunate accidents sometimes result in someone being hurt or even killed, but that does not necessarily mean a crime has been committed.

At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, we dig into every detail of every case we take. We interview witnesses, investigate and collect our own evidence, and weaken the prosecutor’s case with the goal of having the case dropped or reducing our client’s criminal liability.

We are committed to providing each client with high-level legal counsel and defense strategies tailored to the specifics of their case. Attorney Cherella has a deep knowledge of both state and federal court gained in his more than 20 years as a lawyer.

If you are arrested, charged, or investigated for a possible crime, contact Attorney Cherella. Our firm is available 24/7 to fight for your rights. Call (414) 882-8382 for a phone, video, or in-person consultation.