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Sheriff Urges Jeremy Ranch Residents to be Vigilant After Rash of Drone Activity Reports

Rob Russell on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

The Summit County Sheriff's Office had a spate of calls last week from residents in Jeremy Ranch concerned about harassment and invasion of privacy due to drone activity. 


Last weekend, Jeremy Ranch resident Susan Haymaker and her husband went out for an evening walk. They found themselves dealing with a drone noisily flying very close by for about 10 minutes. 


“It went above our heads,” Haymaker said. “It was seven or eight feet up, and then it went behind us and followed us. We kept walking, and we turned right, and the drone kept following us at that close. So, it was very loud. It just followed us very close. So close that I started saying I'm not going to look at it, I'm just going to keep walking.  But you felt like it was so close to your head that it could potentially touch you." 


Haymaker said it was a disturbing and total invasion of privacy, and she didn't want to walk home for fear that the drone operator would know where she lived. 


Summit County Sheriff's Lt. Andrew Wright said the complaints include several people calling to report drone harassment, and he noticed a flurry of social media comments. He said if you want to operate an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), there are several Utah laws that apply. 


"You can be criminally charged if you are going into people's property, crossing fence lines, going into their backyards, if you're going up to people's windows, it's obviously a violation of people's privacy,” Wright said. “You have to understand the FAA regulations on how high you can fly them. If you're specifically flying them around people's homes or around people that are walking, you're toeing the line of violating the law of criminal trespassing, or even voyeurism."


Jeremy Ranch resident Craig White reported his drone stolen after performing an emergency landing on the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course. It took him about 10 minutes to get to the location. He could see the marks in the snow where it landed, but the drone was gone. Whoever took it may have had the same brand of drone or knew enough to turn off the transceiver, so White would not be able to locate it through his controls. 


"They had to have had either a DJI Mavic Air 2 or the DJI Mini also. You can use the same controller,” White said. “So, I imagine them or one of their friends had one, you know, an extra controller. On the 28th, there was three drones flying around harassing. One was off in the distance. There were two; one was Mavic Air 2 and a DJI Phantom. They were kind of like in cahoots." 


White said the people who stole it moved quickly to resync it to their controller. The company, DJI, would be able to identify the drone's location because they have flight logs based on the serial number. But White said he couldn't access that data due to privacy regulations. He said only law enforcement personnel could request the flight data.  


He said his own drone harassed him after it was stolen.


"The drone that was stolen from me was actually the one that was coming down and looking into my window with me and my wife in the house,” White said. “I ran to my cell phone to record it, but it took off. It was the very same day that it was buzzing other people in the street." 


White is a drone hobbyist. He specializes in sunrises, sunsets, and wildfires. He said most operators follow the laws that include not flying drones over crowds and only flying them in places within the operator's eyesight. 


During the same time period, Jeremy Ranch Elementary School reported to the sheriff's office a drone flying over the playground during a recess period. 


"First of all, people should not be flying over large crowds of people that can involve children, and you're not supposed to photographing or anything without parent's consent,” White said. “They may have not been recording. Who knows. You know, that would be pretty creepy if they were." 


Wright said if drones are seen harassing people, witnesses should immediately report the incident to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office by calling 435-615-3500.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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