Bizarre Incident Leads To More Calls From Lawmakers For Stricter Drone Regulations

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New York City teacher is facing charges Friday after crashing a drone into an empty section of seats at the US Open the night before.

Daniel Verley, 26, is charged with reckless endangerment and operating a drone in a New York City public park outside of a prescribed area.

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The incident happened right in the middle of the match between Flavia Pennetta of Italy and Monica Niculescu of Romania, CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported.

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The drone buzzed over the court in Louis Armstrong Stadium at around 8:30 p.m. Thursday before crashing into the seats and breaking.

Luckily the seats were empty and no one was hurt. Play was paused as the NYPD and FDNY investigated, Rincon reported.

Announcers calling the match at first didn’t know what it was.

“We have a moment here where we’re not entirely certain as to what it is that landed in the stands,” the announcers said. “If it’s something that fell from above or something that was left behind, if it’s a projectile or a drone-like device.”

“It seems as though that fell from somewhere. A bit of a distraction for Penetta. I think both players heard it. They both stopped and looked at the chair umpire,” said the announcers.

Pennetta said she heard the drone fly by and was not sure what it was. Her initial reaction, she said afterward, was that it might have been a bomb.

“A little bit scary, I have to say,” Pennetta said. “With everything going on in the world — I thought, ‘OK, it’s over.’ That’s how things happen.”

She said neither the chair umpire nor tournament officials told her that it was, indeed, a drone.

“The chair umpire just wanted to wait for an OK from the police to be able to continue,” Pennetta said. “Even if, truthfully, I don’t think even they knew what it was.”

She said her coach and physical therapist were sitting in the opposite end of the stadium from where the drone crashed and they told her later they were afraid, too.

“All of these (security measures), and then it comes in from above,” Pennetta said.

Pennetta and Niculescu originally were scheduled to play on much smaller Court 17, but their match was moved because four earlier matches wrapped up early.

“If there had been spectators, it would have hit them and done a lot of damage,” Pennetta said.

Some spectators Friday were stunned by the incident, WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reported.

“You always think about things happening like this, you know, unfortunately, but this is just the world we live in nowadays,” one person said.

Pennetta went on to win the match 6-1, 6-4.

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City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who has been pushing for stricter controls on drones in the absence of federal regulations, said the incident highlights the difficulties in enforcement.

“The technology out there on the drones has not allowed for real enforcement and real limits to where they can fly,” he told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

He said nothing is stopping someone from flying a drone into open, public events.

“At the moment, police have very limited tools to stop a drone,” Garodnick said.

In a statement, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called the incident “just the latest close call involving a drone” and said it “clearly illustrates that drones cannot simply be considered children’s toys.”

“Many people operating unmanned aircraft are novices with little or no aviation experience and recklessly flying a drone near, over or into a tennis stadium or an airport or any other place where large groups of people assemble needlessly puts lives in danger,” Brown said. “We were fortunate that no one was injured as a result of last night’s incident. But we can’t rely on happenstance to protect the public. 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.”

Police said Verley was operating the drone, a model 3DR Solo, from the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows when he lost track of the device. He saw the incident online and turned himself into police at the US Open, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

Verley is a teacher at the Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn. The school issued the following statement on Friday:

“Daniel Verley is a science teacher at K618, and started there in 2013. This is not a school-related incident, and we will monitor the criminal case closely. Any disciplinary action will be taken based on the information from the criminal case.”

Verley lives Jamaica, Queens, where no one answered the door at his home on Friday. A man who said he was his father didn’t want to talk about the incident, Rincon reported.

But neighbor Mark Haynes said he saw a drone nearby about a month ago.

“Hovering over the house, just flying around like that and just took off,” Haynes said.

Now, he’s putting two and two together.

“I know we don’t have aliens or an alien craft ship, but now I know what it was,” Haynes said.

And he said he doesn’t think it was a good idea to fly the drone near a big public event.

“That was very dangerous. If he has a toy like that he should have had better control, but he didn’t know,” Haynes said.

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