A Seattle man, Paul M. Skinner, 38, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a fine of $500 for reckless endangerment last Friday. Mr. Skinner was flying a drone during last year’s Pride Parade when he lost control of the drone and it injured two people, knocking one woman unconscious.
The sentence and fine were handed down by Seattle Municipal Court Willie Gregory. It is the first instance of someone in Seattle being charged with a crime related to drone use. It may be just the start. The FAA recently released a report on drone sightings noting a significant increase in drones showing up where they do not belong.
The FAA states in its recent release:
The agency wants to send out a clear message that operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.
Mr. Skinner has learned that. And he is lucky to the extent that City Attorney Pete Holmes had sought a 90 day jail term.
In representing Holmes before Judge Gregory, Assistant City Prosecutor Raymond Lee said Seattle residents “should not fear a drone strike falling from the sky” and noted that the defendant created the situation that caused the harm. When Skinner lost control of the drone, it crashed into a building on 4th Avenue and then struck the two people; one woman suffered a concussion and a man was bruised.
Last month a jury convicted Skinner of reckless endangerment, which is defined this way: “A person is guilty of reckless endangerment when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person.”
In handing down the sentence, Gregory, who had presided over the four-day jury trial in January, recalled that “the [woman] victim had a hard time talking about what happened to her when you [Skinner] placed that drone in the air.” A hearing is set for May 25 to resolve the amount of restitution that Skinner owes the woman for her medical treatment.
Skinner’s attorney said he will appeal the verdict. While it is pending, Skinner will not have to serve the 30 days in jail. However, he will have to meet the other conditions imposed by the court.
“With limited legal tools at our disposal,” Holmes said, “I’m extremely proud of the job Raymond Lee and Jeff Wolf [Lee’s co-counsel] did. Operators should know that we will continue to go after them when they disregard public safety.”
All recreational drone users are obligated to know the rules and regulations for flying. You can find that information here.