Four teens arrested, two charged with throwing dry ice 'bombs'
Four teenagers, including a former Mission Viejo High School football star, have been arrested after allegedly tossing dry ice “bombs” into vehicles and at pedestrians in southern Orange County.
Authorities say Mitchell Gary Melugin, 18, and Robert Jacob Browne, 19, were part of a group of teens that lobbed the homemade explosives from an SUV last week in at least six incidents.
The simple devices are made by combining dry ice and water inside a plastic bottle. A reaction inside the closed bottle builds up pressure until it bursts open in a loud explosion.
Melugin, a former Mission Viejo High football player identified as the driver of the sport utility vehicle used in the attacks, and Browne, his friend, were booked Friday on suspicion of possessing an explosive device with the intent to terrify or injure.
They were initially held on $1 million bail, Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.
Melugin pleaded not guilty Monday to a lesser charge: throwing a substance at vehicle, a misdemeanor. Browne was charged with the same offense but has not yet entered a plea, court records show. Both have been released.
Two juvenile boys that detectives determined were in the vehicle during the attacks also were arrested and released to their parents.
Orange County sheriff’s officials expect charges against them. Their names were not released because they are under 18.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday, a group of pedestrians at Paseo De Valencia and Stockport Street in Laguna Hills reported that an SUV with four teenagers inside drove by and threw a bottle at them that exploded, Amormino said.
About 20 minutes later, someone in a vehicle of the same description threw one of the devices into the vehicle of a man driving with his window down near Alicia Parkway and the 5 Freeway in neighboring Mission Viejo.
The bottle exploded as the man grabbed it to throw it out and injured his hand, Amormino said. He followed the SUV onto the freeway and managed to write down the license plate number and call it in to authorities, who tracked down the vehicle.
The teens told investigators they had exploded up to six devices around southern Orange County. Only three explosions were reported to authorities.
Authorities are unsure what motivated the attacks but say they could have caused serious injuries or traffic accidents.
“Whether they were intending to harm or not, it's a dangerous thing,” Amormino said. “If it was a prank, it's a dangerous prank and obviously ill-advised.”
Melugin was a top-ranked defensive end on the Mission Viejo High football team who graduated this year, according to the Orange County Register. He signed with Northern Arizona University earlier this year, the university told the newspaper.
Melugin’s attorney did not immediately return calls.
-- Tony Barboza
Photos: Mitchell Gary Melugin, left, and Robert Jacob Browne. Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department