Drew P. Dorr paid 50 cents for a small explosive he bought last year at school to enjoy the thrill of the blast. But he ended up paying a big price -- his right thumb.
He hesitated after lighting the oversized, M-110 firecracker -- the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite -- and when he finally tossed it from his right hand, it was too late.
The explosive tore off half his thumb.
"I tried to be brave and not cry," he said. "I looked down at my hand and it was blown apart. I was with my cousin, and we started going up to houses. We went to four houses. Finally someone was at home, a volunteer firefighter. He knew exactly how to help," Drew said.
Since the accident last June 15, 2000, life has not been the same for the incoming West Seneca West High School freshman.
His goal now is to pass on a message that he hopes will ensure other young people learn from his mistake.
"It's not fun for the two seconds you get to hear the explosion," the teen said, standing beside Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan.
The sheriff arranged a news conference Friday to allow Drew to tell his story and put others on the alert to the hazards of fireworks.
To demonstrate the devastating power of explosives, Sgt. Sean Simet, a weapons-ordnance deputy, ignited a half stick of dynamite inside a watermelon placed atop a metal, 50-gallon drum in Buffalo's LaSalle Park.
In an instant, the melon vaporized and the top of the drum shredded.
Looking down at what remains of his right thumb, Drew recalled that the summer of 2000 was spent in physical therapy.
"I could barely take a bath by myself. I could barely button my pants and shirt, and it's still hard to pick up coins off a table," he said. "Everywhere I went, people asked 'Are you Drew, who blew off his thumb?' I said, 'Yeah, don't play with fireworks.' "
Gallivan could not agree more.
"It may be legal to buy fireworks down in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but it is illegal to bring them back to New York State," the sheriff said. "We will be out enforcing the law. A couple years ago, two people were killed in a fireworks explosion in a garage in Hamburg."
"Even sparklers are illegal, and if anyone knows of stores that are selling them, they should contact us," said Gallivan, who praised Drew for sharing his story. "Our goal is to educate the public and prevent injury."
Drew says he still enjoys watching fireworks and hopes that other young people will follow his example and go to a public fireworks display. If they light off fireworks themselves, he says, they risk sharing the same fate as him -- or maybe worse.
"It could be fatal."