Survivors plead for bullet-free skies - WFLA News Channel 8

Survivors plead for bullet-free skies on July 4

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Richard Smeraldo Richard Smeraldo

Sir Isaac Newton figured it out almost 400 years ago: what goes up must come down.

That's the sense of what some shooting victims are now saying before Independence Day celebrations get underway this year.

"Leave your gun at home," said Richard Smeraldo, 75, who survived a falling bullet last year while watching the fireworks display in Safety Harbor in a crowd of 18,000 people.

"It was like getting hit by a baseball bat on my nose," said Smeraldo. "That's what it felt like."

Smeraldo survived his shooting injuries without permanent injury, but it could have been fatal.

"It went through the bill of my hat, went through my nose, came out my nostril and made two holes in my chin," said Smeraldo.

The bullet ricocheted off a religious medal Smeraldo was wearing over his heart and bruised the back of a friend before finally dropping onto a blanket.

"It's sort of a bad luck, good luck thing," Smeraldo said.

Another bullet that same night struck Laura Kaatze, age 42, while she was watching fireworks in Temple Terrace with her daughter in her lap. The bullet lodged in her leg. 

Over six months earlier a 13-year-old boy named Diego Duran barely survived a bullet that struck him in the head during New Year's Eve cerebrations in Ruskin. Duran fell into a coma and still hasn't recovered from the near-fatal brain injury.

"I can't ride roller coasters and have to be more cautious while roller boarding Duran said. "I have this shunt in my head that drains fluid all the way down to my stomach."

Duran's family has now started a nonprofit called Bullet Free Sky to discourage celebratory gunfire that injures people with stunning regularity across the nation.

"What surprises me most is the lack of common sense," said Sandy Duran, Diego's mother. "Celebrating is not the reason to pull out a gun and pull the trigger randomly into the sky. It can take anybody's life away."

The same bullets that people fire into the darkness can fall back to earth at speeds approaching terminal velocity.

"Don't take your gun out there," said Smeraldo. "You might be tempted to shoot it in the air because it goes boom and makes a noise."

As for Thursday's fireworks celebration, Smeraldo says his friends have been urging him to stay inside or wear a helmet.

"I think I'm just going to stay in and watch it on TV," Smeraldo said.

Click here for this July 4th festivities and fireworks in Tampa Bay.

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