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Investigation of Newport theater scare continues

Newport Beach police said Tuesday that they are working to wrap up an investigation of three minors and an adult who authorities say were involved in a prank in which moviegoers were scared by the starting of a leaf blower in a theater.

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.

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

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

When the investigation is completed, police are likely to 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.

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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 in the evening of the theater incident.

The four were released after questioning, Manzella said.

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

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