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South Los Angeles girl blinded in right eye by illegal fireworks

July 7, 2011 |  1:21 pm

A 12-year-old girl from South Los Angeles has lost sight in her right eye and may lose the eye following an accident involving the use of illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Erika Rodriguez "suffered a very severe injury to her right eye from a direct hit by an exploding firework that resulted in severe trauma," said Thomas Lee, an eye surgeon at the Vision Center of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

"The firework actually went straight into the eye," Lee said. "I've never seen a case like this before. The target zone this had to hit is less than half a centimeter."

The incident was perhaps the most notable tragedy arising from local Fourth of July celebrations. Other incidents are suspected in fires in Chatsworth and San Francisco.

The girl had been in front of a home using a sparkler when another person discharged a "firecracker-like" device near her face shortly before 11 p.m., according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey, citing witnesses.

Officials said the accident occurred in the 600 block of West 42nd Place, where participants were apparently lighting various fireworks, all of which are illegal in the city of Los Angeles.

A team of six firefighters worked to stabilize the injury and rushed the child to Children's Hospital in East Hollywood, officials said. Lee said it was there that he confronted a situation unlike any he had encountered.

He said the explosive device directly hit the white part of the eye adjacent to the cornea, an impact that may have caused the blindness. Then, the device deflected into the eye socket between the bone and the eye lodging inside.

"It was almost the size of the eye itself," Lee said. During early-morning surgery, when he found the object and eased it outward, the fragmented explosive popped out because of the pressure. An experienced anesthesiologist almost became sick at the sight, he said.

Lee noted that Children's Hospital braces for serious injuries on the Fourth of July, with the most common being to hands. But the eye also is particularly vulnerable.

"I cannot understand why it's legal in any state to give a kid an explosive device," Lee said. "Parents should never let their children go out and observe fireworks unless it's being performed by a licensed professional."

Erika remains hospitalized and may require further surgery. Police are continuing to investigate the incident.

Elsewhere, 55 firefighters and four helicopters extinguished a half-acre grass fire at Stoney Point, a popular park in Chatsworth.

Witness noted "a thunderous explosion" before the fire erupted among rocky outcroppings, the Fire Department’s Humphrey reported. Witnesses also said they saw that a man and a woman had been badly burned but apparently eluded fire personnel attempting to aid them, he said. Firefighters took custody of a large cache of fireworks that they found.

In San Francisco, illegal fireworks are suspected in a blaze that burned at least three dozen vehicles at a car rental lot and caused the temporary evacuation of a nearby hotel.

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