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No criminal charges for radio crew's turkey fryer fire

The stunt in which a turkey filled with ice water was dropped into a flaming deep fryer through the roof of a van was meant to illustrate the dangers of frying a turkey.

Times files

The stunt in which a turkey filled with ice water was dropped into a flaming deep fryer through the roof of a van was meant to illustrate the dangers of frying a turkey.

TAMPA — There will be no criminal charges for MJ Morning Show crew members involved in a December fire that started with a turkey, a crane and a deep fryer inside a van.

Todd "MJ" Schnitt, Dominick "Fester" Siciliano and Thomas Charles "Tommy Chuck" Ray entered into a diversionary agreement Thursday with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.

The WFLZ-FM 93.3 personalities will have to complete 10 community service hours and donate $15,000 to fire and burn victim charities. Schnitt, Siciliano and Ray will also have to lead a four-week public service campaign for Camp Hopetake, a program for children who have been seriously burned.

Tampa firefighters rushed to the station on Dec. 18, when an on-air and live webcast stunt turned into an out of control fire.

A turkey filled with ice water was dropped through the roof of a van and into an already flaming deep fryer to illustrate the dangers of that cooking method, according to a report released by the state attorney's office Friday. A firefighter hurt his back while pulling out a hose to extinguish the flames.

State fire marshal's investigators said the stunt by Schnitt, Siciliano and Ray was irresponsible, but it wasn't arson.

"While it is clear that the participants acted willfully, it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they acted unlawfully as required by the arson statute and defined by legal precedent," Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober wrote.

Before the stunt, the group made sure there was plywood under the donated van, which had no gas tank. Investigators noted there were at least six fire extinguisher present and it was done in a cleared-out section of the Clear Channel station's Gandy Boulevard parking lot that was away from trees and structures.

Ober conceded the men did violate a Hillsborough County ordinance against open burning, which is a second-degree misdemeanor, but concluded the diversionary deal is the best course.

"Given the minimal sanctions that otherwise would be imposed through the court … this agreement provides an opportunity for the individuals involved to make amends in a manner that provides far greater benefits to the community," the report said.

Clear Channel officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon. A Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman declined to comment.

No criminal charges for radio crew's turkey fryer fire 08/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 10:24pm]
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