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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Real Ammo Linked to Funeral Salute Disaster

(CN) - Two firemen tapped to fire blanks during a veteran's funeral salute suffered injuries because a munitions supplier mistakenly gave them grenades, they claim in court.

Timothy Leahy, commander of American Legion Post 339 in Cleveland, and fellow legionnaire John Shea were taken to the emergency room after the rifles malfunctioned, according to the April 10 complaint filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Their attorney Timothy McGarry said in a phone interview that Shea had part of his nose blown off, and he's lost taste and sensation in his mouth, requiring follow-up medical care.

Leahy meanwhile suffered a laceration to his scalp, plus head pain and a hematoma, McGarry said.

"It's amazing it's not worse," McGarry said. "It's amazing they didn't both lose their lives."

The pair seek damages from the Army Joint Munitions Command, the Lake City Army Ammunitions Plant and Alliant Techsystems, the company that runs the plant, for allegedly mixing grenade cartridges in with blanks and sending them to the Legion for use in ceremonies.

Leahy and Shea had been performing the "graveside honor gun salute," a custom of the local legion wherein volunteers fire blanks at military funerals, on May 6, 2013, when the cartridges exploded and their guns "kick[ed] back," McGarry said.

"Subsequent investigation indicated that the explosion of the rifles resulted due to the fact they did not contain blank ammunition cartridges," the complaint states.

"The grenade cartridges generate much greater pressure and are not designed or intended to be fired with a blank firing adapter," it continues.

Justine Barati with the Army Joint Munitions Command refused to comment on pending litigation. Alliant Techsystems did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McGarry said they have filed an official claim with the Army, but have been unable to determine at what level the responsibility lies, which is why the suit names 10 possible John Does in addition to the three parties.

McGarry also said he expects the case to settle, but notes it's still early in the process.

Neither Leahy nor Shea has participated in a military funeral ceremony since the explosion, McGarry said.

"I can't say I blame them," he added.

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