Four active-duty Marines were superior court on Tuesday to answer felony vandalism charges after an alleged stunt on a San Diego Zoo ride stranded about 100 riders above the park for hours.
The Marines, who all entered not-guilty pleas when they were arraigned Tuesday, all remain free on $20,000 bonds. The judge ordered all of the men to stay away from the zoo. Moving forward, the Marines will all be assigned defense attorneys.
Sgt. Jacob Dean Bauer, 23, Lance Cpl. Brayden Stone Posey, 20, Cpl. Brandon Gregory Cook, 21, and Lance Cpl. Marquette Alexander Williams, 21, were allegedly rocking the Skyfari Aerial Tram gondola they were in back and forth, according to SDPD officer Darius Jamsetjee.
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The defendants, who each face up to three years in prison if convicted of the felony vandalism charge, are due back in court on March 22.
A prosecutor told NBC 7 after court that they there was more than $400 in damage done to the gondola ride, which is why the case rises to a felony charge.
"We take every case seriously, and especially in this case, where people were put in danger, but regardless of them being Marines or not, every case is evaluated the same," Deputy District Attorney Abrey Zora told NBC 7.
Major Mason Englehart, director of communications for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, confirmed to NBC 7 on Jan. 31 that the Marines are assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225 (VMFA 225), wheich is based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. The four men were in San Diego while training at MCAS Miramar, where the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is based.
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About 100 passengers were on the ride when it was forced to stop. It took a little more than two hours for zoo staff and San Diego Fire-Rescue crews to help them all off.
“Anyone found in violation of law or directive will be held appropriately accountable,” Englehart wrote in, in part, in an email to NBC 7, adding that their "behavior is contrary to our core values, and 3d MAW is conducting a separate investigation into the matter as we take misconduct very seriously.”
The Marines could be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), federal laws that apply to all active-duty military members, officials said.