2015-09-09 / Front Page

Drone ‘Nitwit’ Faces Jail Time

BY LIZ GOFF
Authorities have a nickname for the Manhattan teacher who flew his drone into the U.S. Open on Thursday night.

“The guy’s a nitwit,” authorities said. “He’s a teacher at the Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn, and a complete nitwit.”

Science instructor David Verley, 24, earned the title after he flew a four-propeller drone into the Louis Armstrong Stadium on September 3 that crashed into the stands at the U.S Open Tennis Tournament.

“We were fortunate that no one was injured,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

“Drones cannot simply be considered children’s toys,” Brown said. “Those who engage in conduct of this nature will be held legally accountable for their actions. They will not be treated as children or as innocent hobbyists,” Brown declared.

Verley told police he was flying his drone near the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park at about 8:20 p.m. on September 3 when he lost control of the craft. The drone crashed into an unoccupied section at the Armstrong Stadium at about 8:28 p.m., causing a loud racket and a security scare at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament.

Verley told cops he searched a section of the park for the drone and later discovered where it had crashed by going online and hearing new reports of its grand slam.

U.S. Open organizers quickly alerted on-site members of the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force and Queens police officials, who briefly halted action on the court while police and federal agents responded to the scene.

Players and spectators told reporters they at first gasped as the drone approached the empty seats. “It was scary because your mind goes right back to September 11 and the threat of terrorist activity that we live with now,” spectator Alyssa Meyer said. “It was very comforting to see how the police and FBI agents handled things,” Meyer said.

Verley turned himself in to police on Thursday night. He was charged with reckless endangerment, reckless operation of a drone and operating a drone in a New York City Park outside of a prescribed area at his arraignment at Queens Criminal Court. He is due back in court on September 16.

Police sources said Verley is not the first person to face charges for piloting a drone over the U.S. Open. Cops said a Yonkers man was arrested during the 2014 tennis tournament after he flew a drone just outside the grounds of the U.S. Open.

“Recklessly operating a drone near, into or over a tennis center, an airport or other places where large groups of people assemble needlessly puts lives in danger,” Brown said.

Verley flew his drone just a stone throw from the tennis center, Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport, Brown said.

Law enforcement sources said Verley is facing 1-to-3-years behind bars, if convicted.

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