Investigators say a large firework called a mortar was supposed to blast out of a launch tube and light up the night sky. It apparently had a short fuse and, instead, the 3-inch diameter explosive blew up in Ray Criblear's face.
"His wife told me it was falling over, he went to push it up, it hit him in the face," family friend and neighbor Maryanne Boyle said.
Friends and neighbors including Boyle tried in vain to save the 51-year-old warehouse worker.
"This was the saddest 4th of July we're ever going to have," Boyle said.
Criblear's family did not want to talk on camera, but his wife Ann sent word to warn people about using large scale fireworks meant for professionals.
"She said tell everybody do not ever do illegal fireworks, you'll end up dead cause they do malfunction," Boyle said.
Display fireworks, like a mortar or aerial shell, have significant explosive charges.
A family member of Criblear's said today she didn't realize fireworks could be lethal.
It was a sentiment echoed by family friend Tyler Ellis who was with Criblear Monday night.
"I thought it could just burn you, maybe burn you real bad; I didn't think it was that intense," Ellis said.
Ellis said what happened to his friend Ray Criblear was a wakeup call when it comes to the use of fireworks.
The Fire Marshal's office in Middletown Township is conducting the investigation.
It is being joined by the ATF and Pennsylvania State Police.
Fireworks deaths are rare, with the Consumer Product Safety Commission reporting three fireworks-related deaths during 2010, with two fireworks-related deaths in 2009.
The CPSC also reports that fireworks were involved in an estimated 8,600 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2010.