Judge orders teens to post apology on YouTube

A judge here is using YouTube to punish two boys who used the video-sharing website for a prank that ended with battery and criminal mischief charges against them.

The prank, known as "fire in the hole," has become common in the past year. It happened July 25 to fast-food worker Jessica Ceponis at the drive-through of the Taco Bell in Merritt Island, about 50 miles east of Orlando.

Ceponis handed a carload of teens their soft drinks. When she returned to the drive-through window to give them their change, they yelled, "Fire in the hole!" hurled a 32-oz. cup of soda and ice at Ceponis and sped off.

The teens posted a video of the incident on YouTube.com, alongside a number of other videos showing similar pranks. Today, the teens are scheduled to post another video on YouTube: an apology that shows them face down and handcuffed on the hood of a car.

The judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys who devised this punishment hope it will serve as a deterrent.

"You need to broadcast the apology so that the audience is seeing … there were consequences," said attorney Tony Hernandez, who represents one of the defendants in the case.

Police and prosecutors point to the increasing number of youngsters who film violent or cruel pranks and post them online in a bid for fame:

• This spring, Polk County officials said six girls and two boys filmed the beating of a cheerleader — specifically so they could post it online.

• The beating of a 12-year-old Brevard girl was posted last year on the video-sharing site PhotoBucket.com.

• Three Long Island teenagers were arrested last year, accused of beating a girl and posting a video of it on YouTube and MySpace.

Police in New York and Pennsylvania reported a rash of complaints last summer from restaurants about the "fire in the hole" prank, including one in which the drink was laced with hot sauce.

In a statement, YouTube said it doesn't allow the uploading of videos that show someone getting "hurt, attacked or humiliated" and removes those flagged by users.

Ceponis, 23, said she thought the incident was a personal attack but learned from customers that a video was posted on YouTube.

She used the YouTube video to track the boys' MySpace accounts.

"They were bragging about what they had done and how funny it was," Ceponis said. Without revealing her identity, she befriended them online. After she confirmed that they were behind the attack, Ceponis used the phone book to track down one boy's mother who provided the names of the others involved, she said.

The 16-year-old driver who threw the drink and a 15-year-old who was filming were charged with two counts each of battery and one count of criminal mischief.

The teens wrote, filmed and edited the apology video. They also were sentenced to 100 hours each of community service. In addition, they each have to pay a $30 cleaning fee to the restaurant and write letters of apology. The charges will be dropped when the terms of the sentences are met.