Several employees of a Burger King fast-food outlet in Minnesota were persuaded by a prank caller posing as a fire official to smash the restaurant's windows, convinced that rising gas pressure was threatening to cause an explosion, police said Saturday.
Police in the Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids were dispatched to the scene Friday night after someone at a gasoline station next door called emergency services to report what appeared to be an act of vandalism in progress, police Captain Tom Hawley said.
The restaurant manager told arriving officers she had just received a phone call from a man identifying himself as a fire department official who seemed to have a working knowledge of commercial fire safety systems, which he asked her to check, according to Hawley.
In the course of their conversation, she recounted, the caller spoke as if he were remotely monitoring the situation inside the restaurant, and said he could tell that "gas pressure inside the building was rising."
As he gave her "updates," the caller insisted the gas buildup was reaching excessive levels, and finally warned that the restaurant was in danger of exploding unless the exterior windows were immediately broken to relieve pressure, Hawley said.
After quickly ushering out the handful of customers who were present at the time, the manager and three other employees ran out to their cars, grabbed tire irons and other objects and began smashing all the glass ringing the building.
By the time authorities arrived, the employees had shattered virtually all the ground-floor windows, causing several thousand dollars in damage, Hawley said. One worker suffered minor cuts and was treated on the scene by medics.
Firefighters called to the restaurant checked the building but found no traces of leaking gas, and the incident was confirmed to have been a hoax, according to Hawley.
He said investigators were trying to trace the origin of the prank, and were comparing notes with police in other cities around the country where similar phony calls have been reported at fast-food chains in recent days, including outlets in California and Oklahoma.
On Saturday, the smashed windows of the Burger King in Coon Rapids were still boarded up, but the restaurant was open for business, according to Hawley.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Rigby)