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Unregistered Drone Operator Indicted

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Roanoke indicted James Russell Weeks III nearly two years after a drone hovered over a Salem fire station and then dive-bombed and harassed firefighters and police.  Federal authorities have charged Weeks for operating an unregistered aircraft. 

On the evening of July 25, 2019, firefighters at the South Market Street station in downtown Salem noticed a white, four-propeller drone hovering about 15 feet above the building’s ambulance bay, according to the search warrant.  The toaster oven-sized aircraft then dived down at a group of four fighters and two police officers, sometimes hovering at eye level, before gaining elevation again.  This happened five to seven times, according to the warrant.

One firefighter swatted at the drone with a garbage bag, and another sprayed a fire hose in an attempt to bring it down.  Approximately 10 minutes later, the drone flew into an open door of the ambulance bay.  The remote-control operator apparently lost contact with the drone after a firefighter closed the doors, and the aircraft then hit the ceiling, bounced off an ambulance and crashed to the floor.

Weeks went to the Salem Police Department later that night and tried to reclaim the drone.  He told police that he had allowed a friend to fly the drone while he ate dinner, and later learned that it had crashed.

Weeks admitted that he was the operator when he learned that police had seized the drone as a part of an investigation.  Weeks is to be arraigned April 9.

Federal Aviation Administration records show that Weeks did not register the drone for recreational use, and he did not have an FAA Part-107 license to operate it commercially.

Recreational drone pilots can fly their aircraft up to an altitude of 400 feet but must keep the drone within their sight at all times.  Because of its proximity to the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, the Salem fire station is within a controlled airspace that requires drone operators to get permission before flying and stay in contact via two-way radio with the air traffic control tower.