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Out-of-control drone accident results in 30-day jail sentence for Seattle photographer

This is an expensive lesson.


Chris Tognotti


For anyone with a zeal for aviation and technology, these are exciting times. Thanks to the advent of relatively affordable drones, never before has it been easier for a person to take a piece of personal hardware to the skies, whether for business or pleasure, and glimpse what the world looks like from a top-down perspective.

And yet, there are risks and responsibilities that come along with that new freedom, as one Seattle resident just discovered. According to a report from The Seattle Times, 38-year-old Paul M. Skinner was sentenced to 30 days in jail this week, after losing control of a drone at the Seattle Pride Parade and crashing it into two people, knocking one of them unconscious. With the conviction of reckless endangerment, he’s also been slapped with a $500 fine.

The judge presiding over the case, Willie Gregory of the Seattle Municipal Court, reportedly acknowledged that the incident was not deliberate. But that didn’t save Skinner from facing 30 days behind bars, because according to Gregory, Skinner had “engaged in conduct that put people in danger of being injured” and thus assumed responsibility for the injuries his drone caused.

It’s reportedly the first time the city of Seattle has prosecuted someone for unsafe handling of a drone, although judging from the resulting statement from Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, it may not be the last. After the sentencing, Holmes commented that unsafe drone operation was “a serious public-safety issue that will only get worse.”

As LawNewz notes, the details of the incident are harrowing for anyone who’s ever attended a live, outdoors event with drones flying overhead. According to the police report, Skinner lost control of the $1,200 drone (he’s a professional aerial photographer who owns his own business), and it slammed into a woman’s head, knocking her out and very nearly dropping her to the ground. If not for the presence of her boyfriend, who reportedly caught her before she fell, the situation could have been even worse.

In short, this is a valuable lesson for anyone getting excited to take their drone out for a spin above a parade, a festival, or even over a city street. If something goes wrong, and someone is injured (or, in the worst imaginable circumstance, killed) by being hit with a drone, legal consequences will likely follow. 

For what it’s worth, Skinner did escape with less jail time than the prosecution desired, however: His 30-day sentence was far less than the 90 days that Holmes had requested.

H/T LawNewz

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