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Suspect In Deadly Fireworks Blaze Faces Arraignment

July 5, 1996

SCOTTOWN, Ohio (AP) _ People who knew Todd Hall said he had mental problems and was the perfect person to be talked into a prank, like the one that killed eight people in a fireworks store.

Hall, 24, would ride his bicycle onto people’s lawns and walk into homes uninvited, asking for money or gasoline, neighbors in this southern Ohio town said. A prosecutor said Hall had suffered a head injury when he was younger.

Hall was to be arraigned today on eight counts of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted he could get up to 25 years in prison on each count.

A fireworks expert, meanwhile, said Wednesday’s blaze could lead to changes in federal standards that regulate how people buy fireworks.

Hall is accused of starting the blaze by lighting a box of firecrackers while 40 people shopped for the Fourth of July inside Ohio River Fireworks, a cinderblock building about the size of a double-wide trailer.

The fire killed eight people, including two children, and injured 12 as firecrackers and bottle rockets exploded in every direction. The dead were found packed on top of each other just a few feet from the front door.

``In 15 seconds, it was all over,″ Freddie Burcham, assistant fire chief in Windsor Township, said Thursday. ``It was awful.″

Hall, of Proctorville, was egged on by two friends, Lawrence County sheriff’s officials said. No one else has been charged.

Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. said Hall suffered a head injury a number of years ago that may have contributed to his odd behavior.

``I understand he has some problems,″ Collier said. He would not elaborate, but said Hall would have a psychological evaluation.

Neighbors said Hall seemed to have the mental capacity of someone about 12.

A friend of the family who answered the door Thursday night at the home Hall shares with his father said relatives would not comment.

Tom Nibert, who lives up the street in the upper-middle class subdivision, said Hall’s behavior had become more troublesome in the past few months _ he would ride his bike through other people’s property and walk into the Niberts’ home uninvited, asking for money or gasoline.

Nibert said he began locking his house, although he said he was more concerned about Hall hurting himself.

Investigators on Thursday searched the debris inside the store, which is only open on the three weeks before July 4 in this village of 50 people near the West Virginia line. Authorities were using dental records to confirm the victims’ identities.

Three of the injured were still hospitalized today in critical condition. The others have been treated and released.

John Conkling, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said he would come to Ohio to investigate. He said the fire could lead to some changes in federal standards.

``Possibly more limitations on direct consumer access to fireworks,″ he said. ``Perhaps having fireworks behind some type of a barrier and people would select what they want, instead of picking them up themselves.″

Ervin Napier, the owner of D & N Grocery, said residents have always been afraid of a fire since the fireworks store opened five years ago.

``You’ve got a building full of fireworks. You got a disaster waiting,″ he said. ``I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now.″

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