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Fireworks Death Suit May Be Settled

May 14, 1998

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Three fireworks dealers have agreed to pay $1.3 million into a settlement fund for victims of a 1996 fire that killed nine people at a fireworks store in southern Ohio, The Plain Dealer reported today.

The deal was worked out in closed-door negotiations with a federal judge in Cincinnati, the newspaper said. U.S. District Judge Herman Weber has scheduled a September trial for several other defendants.

About 40 shoppers were in the Ohio River Fireworks store in Scottown on July 3, 1996 when the flames broke out, setting off an explosion that killed nine people and injured 11. A brain-injured man was charged with setting the fire.

The dealers that agreed last month to the settlement are South Carolina Distributors Inc., of Cherokee Falls, S.C., Atomic Fireworks of Tennessee Inc. of South Pittsburg, Tenn., and Wet Willy’s Fireworks Supermarket of Tennessee in Jasper, Tenn.

All three said they were passively involved in the explosion because they sold fireworks to the shop operated by David J. Pruitt.

Todd Hall, 26, who underwent a lobotomy after hitting his head in a skateboarding accident in 1987, was indicted on nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of aggravated arson but was found incompetent to stand trial.

Victims said the dealers placed ``ultra-hazardous″ fireworks in the nation’s stream of commerce and failed to monitor where they were going. The victims also charged the fireworks were in ``unreasonably dangerous condition.″

Numerous defendants in the lawsuit have not settled, including Pruitt, other dealers and manufacturers, and the nonprofit trade association for Ohio’s fireworks industry. All deny any responsibility for the explosion.

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