JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – West Davis Park is a quiet community in the heart of Johnson City.
“It’s a good place to live and we want to keep it that way,” said Carla Forney whose family has called it home for decades. “Our neighborhood is a good neighborhood. And we’re not afraid to be in that neighborhood.”
But on July 4th 2018, that changed.
“We came off a year of fireworks that was quiet to a year of fireworks that was off the chain,” Forney said.
Police say dozens of people – mostly juveniles – stormed the neighborhood with backpacks filled with firework mortars and cell phones poised to photograph, video, and live stream as they fired shots at cars, homes, each other, and even police.
“Fireworks were going off in every direction,” Forney said. “People really were scared.”
“They were making a point of throwing fireworks at some of the residents and each other,” said Johnson City Police Lt. Eric Dougherty who told News Channel 11 that it’s not uncommon for people who break the rules on July 4th. “Fireworks in the city are prohibited by city code.”
But last year, Dougherty said what happened in West Davis Park revealed a new level of recklessness and public danger. Fireworks were used as weapons.
“We didn’t know at that time who was throwing them,” he said.
After the smoke cleared, West Davis Park residents united, working with police and others at City Hall to devise a strategy to prevent it from ever happening again.
That now includes an aggressive public information campaign including a first of its kind test by Johnson City Police.
The question they wanted to answer: what would happen if a five-inch mortar got tossed into a car and detonated inside the vehicle, something police believe easily could have happened last year in West Davis Park.
“We’ve had many calls where people were throwing fireworks at passing cars,” said Johnson City Police Sgt. Keith Sexton who led the test at the police firing range.
After connecting wires and retreating to a safe distance, Sexton electrically detonated a 5-inch mortar in the front seat of a car.
The blast surprised even the veteran officers who watched. The rear window exploded, a door blew open, fragments cracked the windshield and fire ignited upholstery.
“I didn’t expect this much damage,” Sexton said. “Someone in that car could have been killed, no doubt about it.”
Police say they plan to increase patrols city-wide on July 4th, and they
plan to charge anyone caught using a firework as a weapon with the intent to harm with aggravated or especially aggravated assault, a felony punishable by potential jail time.
“They’re violating the law. We’re going to actively prosecute those cases,” Lt. Daugherty said.
Carla Forney says her wish for West Davis Park and every neighborhood this Fourth of July is simple. “That nobody gets hurt…. nobody has to go to jail… and we respect each other… respect our privacy.”