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Expert: Dry-ice bomb like Disneyland blast unlikely to do harm

By Joseph Serna

5:18 PM EDT, May 31, 2013

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A Long Beach man probably had no idea the consequences that awaited him when he allegedly created a panic in Disneyland’s Toontown by exploding a bottle of dry ice in a trash can, an explosives expert said Friday.

“I don’t think the kid meant to cause a lot of damage, he’s just an idiot,” said Paul Worsey, an explosives expert and professor of mining and nuclear energy at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. “If it’d been 20 years ago, he’d be washing the city fire truck for the next two months… I know a lot of people who say these days, ‘Man, if we’d done today what we did as a kid, they’d lock us up.’”

But today, in a post 9/11 world and just weeks removed from the Boston Marathon bombing, Christian Barnes, 22, is charged with felony possession of a destructive device and faces up to six years in prison if found guilty.

He’s being held in Orange County’s Central Men’s Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. His attorney declined a request for comment.

According to prosecutors, Barnes set off two dry-ice bombs on Tuesday in the "Happiest Place on Earth," where he worked as an outdoor soda vendor. Prosecutors say a fellow worker came to relieve him after 4 p.m. Barnes allegedly opened up the vending cart and a bottle he had placed in there with dry ice exploded. As he walked off his shift, he tossed a second bottle with dry ice in into a trash can. That one exploded too, scaring park visitors and forcing security to shut down Toontown for two hours.

Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide, explained John Goodpaster, an associate professor of forensic chemistry at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. When it’s put into a small, enclosed space like a plastic water bottle, the pressure builds as it turns from solid to gas. That pressure will eventually build up until the container ruptures, or explodes. The explosion didn’t do any damage or cause any injuries, authorities said.

“Everybody calls everything a bomb now, right?” Worsey said. “It’s like the F-bomb. When has the F-bomb ever killed anybody? There aren’t enough terrorists to go around, so it’s obvious someone’s going to blow this out of proportion.”

Hypothetically, a plastic bottle dry-ice bomb could cause injuries, but someone would have to be very close to it, and it would have to be really big or wrapped with shrapnel, Goodpaster said. So far, authorities haven’t indicated that Tuesday’s incident fit any of those criteria. It just happened in a very public place.

“We think it’s a total misunderstanding,” said Andrew Harris, 23, who went to high school with Barnes and knows his family. “I wouldn’t say it was an accident. But even if he did do that, we’ve all been kids, he probably didn’t think it would get all that attention…. He has a good heart. He wouldn’t hurt nobody.”

Barnes pleaded not guilty Thursday and is due back in court next week for a bail review hearing.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna