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Article updated: 3/22/2014 6:55 PM

Police: Man threw firework at deputies 'because he was scared'

By Marie Wilson

Employees and customers were evacuated from a combined BP gas station and McDonald's restaurant in Wadsworth for about 2 hours about dinner time Friday while a tactical response team was called in after a man ignited a firework while locked inside a bathroom stall, officials said.

"All we heard is police officers told us to get out of the facility," said Jose Reyes, who was working as general manager of the McDonald's about 5:30 p.m. Friday when the man locked himself inside a stall at the BP at 39105 Route 41.

Authorities said Justin M. Koch, 24, of the 200 block of south River Boulevard in Plymouth, Wis., has been charged with aggravated battery to a police officer, aggravated assault and disorderly conduct. He is accused of barricading himself inside the bathroom stall and setting off a firework that exploded with three bangs and a flash of light.

BP gas station clerk Rachael Lugo said she called police shortly before 5:30 p.m. Friday after four or five failed attempts at persuading Koch to leave the small stall of the men's bathroom where he barricaded himself after getting into an argument with his mother. Lugo said Koch's mother was concerned about her son because he was distraught, he had not eaten in two days and he was acting strangely.

"I thought he might hurt himself," Lugo said. "He could have passed out or who knows what was wrong with him."

When Lake County sheriff's deputies arrived at the gas station at the northeast corner of Route 41 and Wadsworth Road, they said Koch did not respond to their attempts to make contact.

Partially kicking open a panel on the stall door, deputies were able to see Koch was "blocking the door, slouched over and unresponsive," according to a news release.

"It sounded like they were wrestling, like it literally sounded like they were fighting in there," Lugo said.

As deputies continued to force their way into the stall, Koch kept closing the door, then set off the firework, authorities said. They then evacuated the area and called in the tactical response team. The firework was "similar to a grenade," Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Sara Balmes said.

Negotiators from the team persuaded Koch to come out from the stall, and he was arrested about 8 p.m. Friday. He appeared in court Saturday, and bail was set at $200,000. Authorities said Koch remains in jail, and his next court date is set for April 1.

Authorities said Koch told investigators he set off the firework inside the stall and threw it at deputies "because he was scared." None of the sheriff's deputies was injured, Balmes said.

Lugo said Koch "seemed normal" when he first entered the station and asked to use the phone. Investigators told her she was brave to enter the bathroom trying to persuade Koch to come out, but she said she didn't see him as a threat.

"One moment he was normal," she said. "Then the next second, he triggered out."

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