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Seattle man gets jail time for drone accident that knocked a woman unconscious

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Sending a clear signal that it has no time for anyone who flies their drone irresponsibly, the Seattle Municipal Court last week landed a local man with a 30-day jail sentence.

Paul Skinner was found guilty of reckless endangerment after an incident at a parade in 2015 where his drone fell from the sky before hitting a woman on the head and knocking her unconscious.

The 38-year-old drone pilot was also fined $500, the Seattle Times reported. Judge Willie Gregory said that while he understood it was an accident, Skinner had nevertheless “engaged in conduct that put people in danger of being injured, which is what happened,” and therefore deserved to be punished.

City Attorney Pete Holmes had pressed for a three-month sentence, describing rogue drone flights as “a serious public-safety issue that will only get worse” as more people buy the remote-controlled flying machines.

Jeffrey Kradel, Skinner’s attorney, told the Times that the sentence was “too severe” for an incident that wasn’t deliberate. He added that in his view the court was using his client to set an example, calling such behavior an improper use of prosecutorial authority.

The incident occurred in downtown Seattle during the city’s annual Pride Parade two years ago. Skinner, who runs an aerial photography business, was capturing imagery using a two-pound, 18 x 18-inch drone. The machine reportedly struck a building, sending it tumbling to the ground, where it hit the 27-year-old woman on the head.

Skinner is appealing the verdict and can avoid prison until the matter is re-examined, while a separate hearing will take place in May to determine how much the Skinner should pay for the woman’s medical treatment.

Rules introduced by the Federal Aviation Administration stipulate that drone pilots “may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation.”

Skinner’s prison sentence is believed to the first one imposed by a U.S. court in relation to a reckless drone flight.

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