July 6, 2012— -- A Florida man struck by a bullet during a July Fourth fireworks display was protected from harm by the silver medallion his daughter recently gave him to wear around his neck.
Richard Smeraldo, 74, of Clearwater, Fla., had gone with his family to watch the fireworks at Safety Harbor Spa and Marina at around 9 p.m. Wednesday, a holiday ritual of theirs.
But as Smeraldo craned his head upward to take in the show, he experienced a strange sensation.
"It was about a half an hour into the show, around 9:30 p.m.," Smeraldo said. "There was a little pause before the finale, and I felt like I was hit with a big rock that smashed me in the nose. "
Smeraldo said he was struck by a bullet that had traveled an unusual path. It went through the bill of his baseball hat, hit his nose, went through his nostril, hit his lip, and traveled through his chin.
"It came straight down like someone had shot it up in the air," he said. "There are three new holes in my face I didn't have before," Smeraldo said.
The bullet was on its way down to his chest, but hit a silver dog-tag medallion Smeraldo had recently started wearing around his neck instead, splitting its chain and falling to the ground.
Smeraldo said the flat, dog tag-sized silver pendant was a gift to him from his mother when he was 16. He had initially worn it on a bracelet, but lost the bracelet long ago.
His daughter gave him the pendant about a month ago, he said. He had it engraved two weeks ago with a Bible verse in memory of his mother, and put it on a stainless steel chain.
The verse is from Matthew 17:20: "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Smeraldo said he received four stitches, two in each of the holes in his chin.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which provides law enforcement services to the city of Safety Harbor, is conducting an investigation.
The bullet that struck Smeraldo was sent to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory to identify its caliber, as well as to test the rifle markings on the bullet for a possible match with a gun registered in the state database, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.
She said it might take a while for the lab to process the round. In the meantime, she's hoping for tips from the event's attendees.
Pasha said the Tampa Bay area has been known to experience celebratory gunfire during particular holidays during the year.
"Along with the fireworks on the Fourth of July, a lot of people will shoot their guns for whatever reason," she said. "We've found that to be true also on New Year's Eve and, believe it or not, on Christmas."
In Florida, eligible residents and nonresidents alike can apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm through the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Nearly 17,000 people attended the fireworks at the marina, Safety Harbor spokesman Brad Purdy said.
"The complete lack of concern or consequence when citizens do this is appalling," Pasha said. "Where do they think the bullets go?"
Smeraldo said he's extremely lucky.
"At least four people said I should buy a lotto ticket," Smeraldo said. "I bought 4 tickets for each of the people who told me to."