MISSION VIEJO — Seven people were treated at a local hospital Friday after someone activated a canister of Mace in a fast-food restaurant.
Employees of a Del Taco restaurant on Avery Parkway said a group of teen-agers set off a Mace canister and then ran out of the establishment about 1:20 p.m.
"Some witnesses said they saw teen-agers in the bathroom playing around," said Bob Dewid, a Del Taco district manager. "It looks like it was just some kids having a good time. I don't think they realized they were going to hurt anybody."
Fumes quickly spread through the restaurant, prompting officials to evacuate 12 employees and customers and close the building, said Dewid, who arrived at the restaurant shortly after the incident.
The youths got away after setting off the canister, officials said.
Seven people, ranging in age from 5 to 32 years, were taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center and treated for shortness of breath, vomiting and burning eyes and throat, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The victims included five Del Taco employees and two customers. All were treated and released a few hours later, the spokeswoman said.
"Everyone is fine now," Dewid said. "It was more of a scare than anything. Some of the customers who were in here called back to make sure everyone was all right. They were exposed to the same thing but apparently they didn't feel sick."
As a precaution, Del Taco officials threw out all the food in the restaurant, Dewid said.
Restaurant officials and county Fire Department investigators checked the food preparation equipment to make sure that it was not coated with any residue from the Mace.
"We're back to business as usual," Dewid said. "We've been given a clean bill of health."
Del Taco restaurants have had this type of problem before, said Paul Hitzelberger, the company's executive vice president of marketing.
"My main concern is that this doesn't happen to anybody else," Dewid said. "I can't imagine where they got the idea to do this in the first place. We don't normally get kids at this restaurant during lunch. But most kids are great, and we're glad to have them. We can't very well put a security guard in the dining room 24 hours a day."