A University of Kentucky law student has been charged after his camera-equipped drone allegedly endangered a parachutist before crashing into Commonwealth Stadium during a Kentucky football game.
Peyton Wilson, 24, a law student from Louisville, was operating the drone while standing outside the stadium when he crashed it into the suite-level glass on the south side of the renovated stadium, as several fans stood below waiting for kickoff of the Louisiana-Lafayette game Sept. 5, UK police said Friday. No one was injured.
He was charged Thursday with second-degree wanton endangerment, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Wilson was not booked into jail Thursday night but is scheduled to be appear Oct. 20 before Fayette District Judge Megan Lake Thornton.
Wilson declined comment when contacted at his Lexington apartment on Friday. However, Wilson's attorney, Luke Morgan, said Wilson had contacted UK police before the game about flying the drone. Police gave him another contact, but that person didn't return Wilson's email, Morgan said.
Wilson is "a UK fan who was also excited with the opening" of the renovated stadium, and he wanted to document that, Morgan said.
Morgan speculated that cellphone interference might have caused the drone to malfunction. But he said Wilson "literally ran to police to tell them about the malfunction."
Morgan said Wilson has been "flying for some time without incident." And Morgan said, "Peyton is thankful no one was hurt."
UK Police Chief Joe Monroe did say Friday that police had been in contact with Wilson shortly after the crash. Monroe said alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
The drone was seen inside the bowl of Commonwealth Stadium during the pregame festivities, which included military parachutists skydiving into the stadium.
One parachutist, Hollis Collins, told UK police that he had to alter his flight path to avoid contact with the drone, which was within 15 to 20 feet of him at one point, according to a criminal complaint summons filed in district court.
Collins also told police that a collision with the drone or the surge of air from its propellers "would cause him to drastically lose altitude, potentially causing him to crash into the crowd" or the stadium, the complaint summons said.
Two other parachutists, Adam L. Ralston and John M. Garrido, reiterated and confirmed the statement from Collins, the summons said.
"It's very dangerous when you have a non-piloted, remote-controlled aircraft, especially when there are areas with lots of people," Monroe said.
Another witness on the suites patio deck, Andrew Slayton, told police that the drone "was at eye level to him and increasing speed in his direction," the summons said.
The drone passed overhead, hit the wall behind him, broke into the several pieces and fell to the patio deck.
The drone was equipped with a high-powered camera and was recording images during its Saturday flight, Monroe said. He would not say whether those images included shots of the drone flying near the parachutists.
"I'm not going into details about what we have," Monroe said.
Wilson takes some communications classes, but police don't think the drone "was related to anything he's doing with schoolwork at the university," Monroe said.
Through execution of a search warrant, UK police learned that Wilson had been flying the drone at other times on campus. Police obtained images including shots of a soccer game played on Sept. 4, the night before Saturday's crash. In addition, Monroe said, police had received reports of a drone flying over the soccer game and over tailgating areas.
UK police don't think Wilson intended to fly the drone as a prank or as a means to get attention, Monroe said. "We feel like he was using it for his personal use or had planned on doing it for some kind of commercial use," Monroe said. Morgan, the attorney, said Wilson did not have a commercial use in mind.
In any case, UK police received numerous videos and pictures from the public documenting the location of the drone inside the stadium and the crash.
The quadcopter drone and its camera equipment have a value "in excess of $3,000," Monroe said.
UK police have forwarded the findings of their investigation to the Federal Aviation Administration for review to determine whether any additional violations and penalties apply. Monroe said he didn't know how long the FAA's review would take.
Monroe said he couldn't comment on whether Wilson might face sanctions through the UK student code of conduct.
The FAA prohibits the flying of drones over stadiums from one hour before until one hour after most major sporting events, including NCAA football games.
"We hope that this will set a precedent that this is not going to be tolerated at the University of Kentucky in these venues without prior approval," Monroe said.
Monroe said he anticipated that "no fly zone" signs will be erected in the stadium parking lots.
UK's Chandler Hospital has been designated by the FAA as an airport because of its helipad for air ambulances. FAA safety guidelines for drones say not to fly drones within 5 miles of an airport unless the airports are contacted before flying,
The university has convened a working group to draft a policy on the usage of unmanned aerial aircraft systems. Meanwhile, the university is prohibiting the use of them on campus.