Court orders Virginia man to lose drone

He thought he could have fun taunting fire fighters with it

A USA man will lose his drone after he pled guilty to using it to taunt police fire fighters at a station in Virginia.

Forty-year-old James Russell Weeks III was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $100 fine in the Western District of Virginia last Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Weeks narrowly avoided prison after federal prosecutors said his criminal history indicated “an inability to follow society’s rules.”

Still, losing his drone would surely feel like a kick below the belt for Weeks, after the judge ordered that he forfeit his drone, which is worth an estimated $1,600. Weeks pleaded guilty to felony charges of operating an unregistered aircraft in November.

“A Salem, Virginia man, who admitted to flying a drone near the fire station in the City of Salem in July 2019, was sentenced today to two years’ probation, a $100 fine, and the forfeiture of the drone, which had an estimated value of $1,600,” the press release said. 

Weeks pleaded guilty in November last year to operating an unregistered aircraft.

“Because any drone weighing more than .55 pounds is considered an “unmanned aircraft” by the Federal Aviation Administration, it must be registered before being operated, and Weeks failed to register his drone with the FAA as required.

“Weeks admitted to ‘buzzing’ a group of firefighters that stood outside the City of Salem fire station in 2019, by flying his drone directly at the firefighters – who had to dive out of the way – and then flying the craft into the garage of the fire station where it crashed into a pole.”

Both his attorney and federal prosecutors asked the judge for a probationary sentence instead of incarceration.

“We see it as a fair resolution of the case,” said Randy Cargill, a public defender representing Weeks, adding that he might have tried for a lesser charge if it hadn’t been for a prior felony conviction against Weeks.

“But all in all a fair outcome.”

The charges date to July 25, 2019, when Weeks flew his drone over the fire station in Salem, Virginia. Weeks told the court in sentencing documents that he bought the drone from Best Buy for $1,600 and liked taking photographs in the area with it.

“He knew, from warnings on the drone packaging, that he was supposed to register the drone online but simply neglected to do so,” Cargill said in court filings.

 A friend of Weeks was visiting on the day of the incident and they decided to take turns flying the drone, according to sentencing documents.

When the drone neared the fire department, Weeks said he “foolishly” decided to “have some fun” with the firefighters standing outside.

According to the sentencing documents, the man later admitted to “taunting” the firefighters by flying the drone low before letting it gain elevation again, sentencing documents say.

“The firefighters attempted to swat down the drone and eventually downed it with a water hose,” Cargill said in court filings.

“James states that he never intended to harm anyone with the drone and that in fact the drone was equipped with an obstacle avoidance system that prevents collisions.”

Evidently, collision avoidance this time did not do so well against an angry jet of water.


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