On New Year's Eve, a drone crashed into the observation deck of the Seattle Space Needle, startling workers as they prepared for city's NYE Fireworks display. At present, no state ordinances exist regarding drones, but that won't necessarily protect the owner in the drone incident from punitive legal action.
The owner, whose name is yet to be disclosed, was successfully identified by police via the drone's serial number, according to a source close to the investigation. Management at the Space Needle initially contacted the Federal Aviation Administration, who redirected them to local law enforcement. The drone was obtained by local authorities on January 10th. According to the city attorney's office, the owner of the drone could be charged with reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and fine of up to $5,000. Hinging on the passage of new legislation, more charges may be added for similar events in the future.
The monument, which measures 605 feet from the ground to spire, was undamaged in the incident. Federal regulations do prohibit drones from flying above 400 feet; therein lies one legal strike against the owner. This is the third drone incident connected to the Space Needle; CEO Ron Sevart has since expressed his esteem and approval for the needle's recently installed drone tractor. Footage of the crash from the drone cam shows it meeting a bumpy landing on the roof of the observation deck.
The event adds to the small roster of Washington drone mishaps that have now warranted the attention of lawmakers. In May, another camera-equipped drone crashed into the window of someone's home in the Capitol Hill area. In 2015, a woman was knocked unconscious by a plummeting drone at the Seattle Pride Parade, and in 2014 a woman reported a drone hovering outside her bedroom window while she undressed.
State Rep Jeff Morris has expressed particular concern with drones being used to spy on other individuals. Prior to the Space Needle incident, Morris sponsored House Bill 1049, which would make it a civil infraction to "fly a drone over private property while taking photographs or collecting other personal information,” without federal authorization or the property owner's consent. The bill would also make it a civil offense to fly a drone unlabeled with the name and phone number of its owner. The Federal Aviation Administration recently mandated that all drones over 55 pounds need be registered with the agency.
According to local authorities in Tacoma, Lacey, and Olympia, the drone problem has not extended its reach beyond big cities, with little to no incidents occurring outside Seattle. They speculated this circumstance could change as drones become cheaper and more widely used. Annual drone sales are projected to rise from 2.6 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020.
Lawmakers, however, remain wary of over-regulating a nascent, booming business. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International maintains the dogma that airspace regulation ought to be left up to the federal government, so as to avoid "a complicated patchwork of [differing state] laws that will erode, rather than enhance, aviation safety.” CEO Brian Wayne added that such a bill would "stifle innovation, and jeopardize current and future jobs in the growing unmanned systems sector in the state."
If you charged are with a misdemeanor or criminal offense in the Seattle, Washington, contact criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi. With extensive experience as a prosecutor to inform his practice, Karimi will fight for you in the courtroom and offer compassionate and pragmatic legal counsel.