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Investigation of Newport Beach theater scare may wrap up soon, police say

Investigation of Newport Beach theater scare may wrap up soon, police say
Detectives have questioned and released three minors and one adult who they say are connected to a prank involving a leaf blower at a Newport Beach movie theater. (Courtesy Newport Beach Police)

Newport Beach police say they are working to wrap up an investigation into a prank that sent moviegoers into a panic earlier this month when a leaf blower was started in a theater.

Police say three minors and an adult were involved, and the four remain free while detectives finish their work, police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said. She estimated the investigation could be finished in the next week or two, according to the Daily Pilot.

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"I have no reason to believe that the investigation will take an undue amount of time," she said.

Last week, police said that at least one of the four persons of interest in the case entered the Edwards Big Newport 6 cinema through an emergency exit and revved a leaf blower, starting a panic during an Aug. 8 showing of "The Gift."

Some in the audience suffered minor injuries in the rush to leave when moviegoers thought the blower was a weapon.

On Tuesday, Manzella said all four were involved in the incident, but she declined to explain how, citing the ongoing investigation. Police have said the four are between 15 and 20 years old and that three are male.

When the investigation is completed, police likely will forward the case to Orange County prosecutors, who will have the final say on whether to file charges, Manzella said.

Courtney Pilchman, a former deputy district attorney whose law firm specializes in defending minors, said prosecutors could have a difficult time deciding how to handle minors involved in what she called a "stupid, stupid prank."

Often, she said, juvenile cases can be resolved informally. Prosecutors can ultimately drop charges if kids abide by curfews and other restrictions set by probation officials or complete drug and alcohol counseling, if applicable. Criminal punishment is usually reserved for the most serious cases, Pilchman said.

Last week, the four turned themselves in to Newport Beach police after investigators posted surveillance photos of them taken at an Irvine In-N-Out Burger, where the group is believed to have pointed a leaf blower at bystanders earlier on the same evening of the theater incident.

The four were released after questioning, Manzella said.

"Right now, everyone's cooperating," she said.

Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

Follow @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter

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