Is there any better way to celebrate our great nation’s birth than to shoot off some fireworks, call the cops on yourself, and get locked in a police van?
We do things big here in America, and nowhere is that more evident than in the ways we celebrate July 4, the day marking this great nation’s independence.
Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, Jell-O mold, beer, parades, and fireworks—why, that’ll show those monarchic Brits! (Or was it the French? The Dutch? RuPaul? Oh, who cares? We’re free!)
Perhaps a patriotic fervor gripped Colorado native Sean Michael Ogden, the boy so nice his parents named him thrice, last July 4. Whatever it was, he got it into his head that his fireworks would be so much better if they were so much… bigger.
And so Mr. Ogden, 19, who lives in a trailer park in Durango (population 16,627), employed the ingenuity, not to say inanity, characteristic of American males young and old. Shortly after noon that day, he tossed many small fireworks into a coffee grinder with the express—if not espresso—purpose of mixing them together to make a sort of Super Firework.
Alas, the idea, as well as the experiment, blew up in his face.
A July 8 piece in the Durango Herald quoted police as saying friction from the coffee grinder might have ignited the fireworks.
Mr. Ogden was flown to a hospital at the University of Colorado with severe burns. Presently he was listed in fair condition.
The Herald reported that the blast sent “a plume of smoke into the air” and shook the house of a fire inspector a quarter-mile away. The story further carried the curious detail that Mr. Ogden “was wearing jeans and no shirt when the mixture exploded.”
A marshal with the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority who goes by the sensible name of Tom Kaufman told the Herald it appears that, prior to the accident, Mr. Ogden stumbled upon a website describing how to combine various fireworks to create a supremely powerful mixture.
“At some point in time, [Mr. Ogden] decided the fireworks he purchased were too small,” Marshal Kaufman said. “Unfortunately, someone got seriously injured.” (He is referring to the ill-starred young explosives alchemist.)
This incident suggests that one shouldn’t necessarily believe everything posted on the Internet, particularly if it’s written by what may well be Red Bull-swilling, basement-dwelling pyromaniacs.
“Fireworks are dangerous, but when you alter them… it’s extremely dangerous unless you’re absolutely trained in what you’re doing,” Marshal Kaufaman told the Herald.
Ever the patriot, he added, “Save your money, [and] come watch the display that we do.”
Two men in Faulkville, Georgia, a hamlet in Effingham County (pop. 53,941), dialed 911 in a panic July 19 after watching a display of… well, nothing, as it turned out.
Brian Johnson, 28, and Brian Austin, 25, of Bloomingdale (pop. 2,680), placed the home-invasion 911 call at roughly 4 a.m., according to a July 20 report in the Savannah Morning News (“Savannah, GA Source for Breaking Local News, Sport, Entertainment & Weather”).
When sheriff’s deputies arrived, Messrs. Johnson and Austin said they had heard sounds in the back bedroom of their house, and believed they were being robbed.
“They pointed out to the deputies outside where the ‘suspects’ were climbing into a boat and getting away,” a sheriff’s spokesman with the topsy-turvy name of David Ehsanipoor told the Morning News. “There was no one there, and deputies realized the two men were hallucinating. They were so high they called 911 on themselves.”
Authorities presently, if not surprisingly, discovered a methamphetamine-production laboratory on the premises.
We find it intriguing that Messrs. Johnson and Austin experienced an identical delusion—they “saw” the same “robbers.” Is this oddity of perception particular to methamphetamine aficionados?
Perhaps. But maybe the men’s doubled-down delirium occurred simply because they share the same first name.
Together they are “Brians.” That is an anagram for “brains,” something which each of the men appears to have fried unto madness.
Were Jeffrey Olson, 22, and Ryan Letchford, 21, both of Marlton, New Jersey (pop. 10,063), sharing twinned hallucinations when they hatched a plan to climb into the back of a state constable’s van in order to snap photos of each other in it?
Or were they simply tanked enough to think that stepping into the van, which was parked in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania (pop. 31,014 in 2007), would fill the void left when a party they had attended ended?
A July 19 Philadelphia Inquirer dispatch gave no clue as to the men’s mental state, so it’s likely we shan’t ever know. What the story lacks in psychological sensitivity, however, it more than compensates for by ably presenting the hard facts.
The most salient of these appears to be that the Olson-Letchford plan, executed early on the morning of July 18, neglected to factor in that a police van’s back door automatically locks behind someone within the vehicle.
In other words, it’s the same as a police car. You can get in, but you can’t get out.
Or, as Radnor police Corporal Kevin Gallagher told the Inquirer, “It’s the same as a police car. You can get in, but you can’t get out.”
Once locked in the van, the impish Messrs. Olson and Letchford proceeded to wreck the vehicle’s interior while trying to kick their way out. Presently, a friend thoughtfully called police to report them trapped.
The men face charges of public drunkenness and criminal mischief.
In what is perhaps an ironic twist, the two were carted to a jail in Wayne, Pennsylvania (pop. 1,978 in 2007) not by van but by police cruiser (you can get in, but you can’t get out).
Exploding fireworks, Doppelganger hallucinations, automatically locking police vans: these certainly make the case that America is, indeed, the land of liberty—the liberty to act like a total nitwit.
Now that’s something to celebrate.
Dave Ford is a San Francisco writer whose work has appeared in Spin, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, The Advocate, and a host of other periodicals. He writes the blog Dave Ford, and is a certified yoga instructor who teaches at various venues in his home city.
Illustration by Bion Harrigan. Bion Harrigan keeps his head firmly planted in the clouds and has done so since the earliest days of a youth misspent idly daydreaming, reading Mad magazine, and drawing scary monsters and super creeps. He continues to spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming and drawing at his home in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Other dudes, who, previously, have been “in the news”