A three-month investigation into a botched fire-breathing stunt at Atlantic High School is complete, and the school’s principal and a teacher are being faulted for allowing it to happen.
The school district has decided to reprimand Principal Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo and teacher William Durgin for their role in permitting the event in the Delray Beach school’s crowded gymnasium.
The March 17 performance, a slam dunk show that included a fire-breathing stunt at the end, was arranged by teacher William Durgin, the school’s student government sponsor, and approved by Principal Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo.
The performer, Ricky “Inferno” Charles, was experimenting with a new kind of oil when he accidentally ignited himself at the rally in front of 2,000 Atlantic High students. After being engulfed in flames, he suffered second-degree burns.
Video of the incident went viral and attracted widespread media attention. Superintendent Robert Avossa said he was “shocked” by the incident.
The school district investigation found that the school did not have a contract in place for the event as required, and that school administrators did not follow proper procedures for planning it.
Both Dellegrotti-Ocampo and Durgin failed to exercise best professional judgment, the investigation concluded. Durgin received a verbal reprimand, while Dellegrotti-Ocampo received a written reprimand.
Neither responded to requests for comment.
In trying to determine why the event was allowed to happen, investigators had to work through conflicting statements from key participants.
Charles, who did the fire-breathing stunt, said that he told Durgin the fire component was optional and that Durgin told him to include it in the performance.
But Durgin said that Charles never gave him the option to leave out the fire component and had downplayed it as a “small flame.”
Dellegrotti-Ocampo, the principal, told investigators that she did not know that the performance would include fire.
“Fire was never mentioned to the Admin Team,” she wrote in a statement to investigators. “If the use of fire had been mentioned I would have immediately disapproved the event from happening.”
But Durgin said that he told her and other administrators that fire would be included at a meeting before the event.
An assistant principal corroborated Durgin’s account, but other assistant principals said they didn’t recall Durgin mentioning fire.
In a letter of reprimand, district officials told Dellegrotti-Ocampo that she “failed to take responsibility to ensure that proper procedures for holding a special event at the school were followed.”
Durgin’s reprimand stated that “you admitted to being aware that a fire would be part of the performance and that you did not have a contract in place for the event.”