Police question 4 'persons of interest' in Newport Beach theater leaf blower scare

Police sought the public's help in identifying four persons of interest in connection with a prank involving a leaf-blower at a Southern California movie theater. They later turned themselves in, police said.

Four young people wanted for questioning have turned themselves in and are cooperating as police investigate an incident in which someone revved a leaf blower in a Newport Beach theater, police said Tuesday.

Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said that detectives had been conducting interviews and that police would release more details Wednesday.


Earlier Tuesday, Newport Beach police released surveillance pictures showing the people being sought and the vehicle they may have been using, a silver Ford full-size pickup truck with four doors.

The four have not been definitively linked to the theater incident, according to police, who referred to them as "persons of interest."

Shortly before the person burst into a screening of the thriller "The Gift" about 11 p.m. Saturday, someone started a leaf blower at an In-N-Out Burger near UC Irvine, Manzella said. She declined to provide details.

No one reported the Irvine incident to police at the time, she said, but investigators are taking a closer look after some moviegoers were injured in the rush to leave the Edwards Big Newport 6 theater, thinking that the leaf blower was a chainsaw or a gun.

Police believe someone in the theater opened an exit door to let in a co-conspirator, who raised the leaf blower above his head, yelled and revved the motor.

Katrina Wolfe, who was watching the movie with her boyfriend, said she thought their lives were in danger.

"Both my boyfriend and I believed that this was a person with a weapon — probably a gun — and fully expected shooting to start at any moment," Wolfe said. "We crawled as fast as we could on our knees."

Some people suffered minor injuries from being trampled during the panic, police said.

"People were leaving shoes, wallets, purses strewn everywhere. I left my purse," Wolfe said. "There was a young girl there with her father who was screaming and crying hysterically."

Police said they are not treating the incident as a minor prank, especially in light of highly publicized shootings and other attacks at movie theaters across the country, including one in Lafayette, La., last month, when a 59-year-old drifter killed two people and injured nine others before killing himself.

Authorities encouraged anyone who recognizes the four people or has other helpful information about the case to contact Newport Beach Police Det. Joshua Vincelet at (949) 644-3779. Anonymous tips can be left at (800) 550-NBPD (550-6273).

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Dobruck writes for Times Community News. Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.