Video: After drone crash, Marco council nixes ordinance
Allegations of drone “spying” were contested at Monday’s Marco Island City Council meeting following an April 3 incident in which a drone that was taking a scenic video of Cape Marco crashed into a Belize condo balcony.
The only problem: It flew straight back and the condo building was in its path.A subsequent investigation found the drone had lost contact with the controller, triggering a “return to home” feature.
Toward the end of a relatively uneventful council session, council member Victor Rios brought forth a “white paper” for a discussion about regulation of drones on Marco Island. Rios lives at the Belize, and is the president of the homeowners’ board.
Rios had called Police Chief Al Schettino on Sunday, April 3, around 9 p.m. to report a drone had crashed onto a lanai at his building, and requested a response police. Rios alleged that the drone was “spying” on the residents of that unit and that the owners of the drone trespassed on the property.
“That person freaked out and was very upset,” Rios said at the council meeting. “We need to create an ordinance to protect their airspace and the intrusion of drones into their private property.”
A review of the police reports and statements from the parties involved showed that the incident actually occurred sometime around noon on April 3.
The owners of the device went to the front desk of the Belize to see if they could recover it. They had pinpointed the drone’s location with a tracking app on their cellphone.
According to the depositions and sworn statements obtained by the Sun Times, the drone owners left the information about the drone’s location, along with their contact information so it could be returned to them.
Rios, as president of the building, learned of the incident later that evening from the night desk employee. He requested the unit owner check their lanai around 8:45 p.m. to see if the drone was on their balcony.
The owners found it, after which Rios called Schettino and an officer was dispatched. There were no records of a call to 911, but only a call to Chief Schettino’s cell phone.
After that, a number of emails ensued between Rios and the investigating officers, the city attorney and the police chief. Some of those emails would “question” the process being followed, and some of the conclusions of the investigators.
In one email between Rios and city officials, he cited experience building toy airplanes in explaining how he drew his own conclusions about the incident.
“Based upon my experience and due to the position of the drone on the master bedroom lanai, I believe that it was hovering just above the railing and maneuvering for better position in an attempt to get closer - and this is when the drone hit the edge of the railing damaging the propellers,” Rios wrote.
He said he believed this was how the drone lost stability and landed upside down.
On Monday, Rios questioned the “judgment” by the investigating officers when he spoke to Schettino during a recess.
That conversation was the last straw for Schettino.
“With all due respect sir, it hurts my feelings when you come up to me on the break and question my investigators handling of this case and two others that are unrelated concerning trespassing issues onto the property,” Schettino said. “We deal with facts, not conjecture, and that is how we draw our conclusions, based on evidence not speculation.”
“The owners of the drone were very cooperative,” said Schettino.
The police chief said they voluntarily turned over the video card for the department’s review, and that short film clip was played at council.
The video clearly shows the device flying into the building and not hovering, maneuvering or otherwise positioning for a better venue to viewing.
On the issue of trespassing, the reports showed that an unidentified woman had let the couple who owned the drone onto the property. She did so by opening a locked gate for the couple after they had explained what had happened.
The couple went to the front desk of the Belize, where they explained the situation. The desk personnel said they should leave their contact information so the building manager could contact them on the Monday.
“We found no intent by those folks to intentionally trespass, however we did give a trespass warning,” said Schettino.
In the end, council found no reason to proceed with a specific drone ordinance for the island and adjourned with the next meeting scheduled for May 16.