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Flying drone at State Fair lands Raleigh man in jail

Posted October 22, 2015

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— A Raleigh man was arrested Wednesday after authorities said he was flying a drone over the State Fairgrounds.

Matthew Allen Kenning, 38, of 2037 Shadow Creek Drive, was charged with a misdemeanor violation of state regulations of unmanned aircraft systems. He also was charged with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said deputies noticed a drone equipped with a camera buzzing over the fairgrounds Wednesday night, and they and State Highway Patrol troopers tracked the aircraft down to Kenning, who was standing along Hillsborough Street near Blue Ridge Road with a remote control unit around his neck.

"The biggest concern I had right then is, if it fell into the crowd, how many people are going to get hurt?" Harrison said.

Investigators said they don't know what the operator's intentions were, but they hope to get a better picture once they view the images from the drone's camera.

Kenning told authorities he was shooting video and wanted to make some money by putting the video online, the sheriff said.

Federal law doesn't forbid someone from flying a drone over the State Fairgrounds because it is more than 5 miles from an airport, but state law makes it unlawful to launch or land a drone on state property without permission.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to create guidelines for a national registry of drones by Nov. 20 and have the registry up and running in time for the holidays, when about a million drones are expected to be sold.

Bobby Walston, who heads the state Division of Aviation, equated the explosion of drones and recreational hobbyists to the wild, wild West.

"They're popular, and we've got to have some control over them," Harrison said.

Joe Chism said he is selling more drones than ever at Garner Hobby, many to first-time operators.

Chism said he tries to emphasize to customers the importance of knowing the federal rules, as well as using common sense.

"He's just one of those people that want to mess it up for the rest of us, I guess," he said when hearing of the charge against Kenning.

Kenning has been on the sex offender registry in North Carolina for the past decade as a result of a 1999 conviction in Indiana involving a 15-year-old girl.

"I'm not going to sit here and say it doesn't concern me when I saw that he was a sex offender," Harrison said. "It may not have one thing to do with the drone, but to me, being in law enforcement, it sends up a red flag."

30 Comments

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  • Jon Gregory Oct 26, 2015
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    Well, clearly he doesn't need the $$$ if he bought a drone.

    "Kenning told authorities he was shooting video and wanted to make some money by putting the video online, the sheriff said."

  • Chip Robie Oct 23, 2015
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    The "drone" comes equipped with that camera. It shoots 4K video and has NO zoom.
    For complete specs, Google "Phantom 3 Pro".

  • Chip Robie Oct 23, 2015
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    The current headline is misleading and wrong. The "drone" charge is a misdemeanor, a ticket. Not a jailing offense. Guy went to jail for possessing drug paraphenalia.

    The fact that they guy was convicted of a sexual offense 16 years ago is completely unrelated to the arrest.

    When the sherrif's office views the aerial footage, they will see photography where people are not recognizable or distinguish between adults and kids. Dots.

    There are no statistics that show any greater risk of injury from a falling quadcopter than lightning strikes or airliner crashes. It's all hype.

    It's a hobby aircraft. Not a military spy drone with an attack payload.

    Yes, taking off a hobby craft from state land is illegal--and so is jay walking. Both are punishable by misdemeanor ticket.

    But the drone didn't land the man in jail. Drugs did. And an arrest 16 years ago had NADA to do with the event. But it does make for Dirty Laundry-style salacious tabloid reporting. GO WRAL! Sell stories, not truth!

  • Chip Robie Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    The current headline is misleading and wrong. The "drone" charge is a misdemeanor, a ticket. Not a jailing offense. Guy went to jail for possessing drug paraphenalia.

    The fact that they guy was convicted of a sexual offense 16 years ago is completely unrelated to the arrest.

    When the sherrif's office views the aerial footage, they will see photography where people are not recognizable or distinguish between adults and kids. Dots.

    There are no statistics that show any greater risk of injury from a falling quadcopter than lightning strikes or airliner crashes. It's all hype.

    It's a hobby aircraft. Not a military spy drone with an attack payload.

    Yes, taking off a hobby craft from state land is illegal--and so is jay walking. Both are punishable by misdemeanor ticket.

    But the drone didn't land the man in jail. Drugs did. And an arrest 16 years ago had NADA to do with the event. But it does make for Dirty Laundry-style salacious tabloid reporting. GO WRAL! Sell stories, not truth!

  • Chip Robie Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    The reporting on this has been tabloid and lazy, hyping salacious details that are completely unrelated to the event to build on fear of "drones" and pedophiles. Shame on WRAL!

    There has been NO reporting on the "drone" because it would not elevate public fears or make salacious headlines to scare people.

    The "drone" is a $1500 Phantom 3 Pro hobby quadcopter with a no-zoom camera. At 100 feet, people are dots. You can't tell a kid-dot from a grown-up dot. The copter is GPS limited to 400 ft height.

    If if flies out of controller range, it automatically returns to take off point and lands.

    If it gets below 30% battery power, it automatically goes home and lands. They don't fall from the sky.

    That's not scary at all if it can't spy on you or fall on you, is it? Well WRAL will make it scarier to sell better. Dirty Laundry!

    More risk of getting hit by American Airlines debris en route to RDU. More risk of pedo cam pics by folks with cell phones standing next to kids in line.

  • John Smith Oct 23, 2015
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    That's the way I read it. So, I COULD launch one from the roof of my car. It is private property. Before anyone says "well it's parked on state property", think about how many firearms are locked away in all of those vehicles parked on state owned property...
    Now, in reality, I would not do it for fear of it crashing into a crowd. Same reason I don't have a problem not being able to carry in the fair. Too much of a chance of hitting an innocent bystander....

  • Brian White Oct 23, 2015
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    Flying a drone for commercial reasons is against FAA regulations though. This is why you keep your mouth shut when talking to police. If he hadn't offered that bit of information, his lawyer could say he was just flying it for hobbyist/personal reasons.

  • Brian White Oct 23, 2015
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    Incorrect. It is illegal to fly an "unmanned aircraft" if it is launched from state property. A model aircraft is not illegal under the law they charged him under. The problem here is that the WCSO seems to be defining a drone as "unmanned aircraft" and not as a model aircraft. The definition is pretty clear in the statute and I don't see how he will be convicted of this offense (provided he gets a decent lawyer). His biggest problem was having drugs on him while doing this.

    http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByArticle/Chapter_15A/Article_16B.pdf

  • Amy Carey Oct 23, 2015
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    From the ages of his victim and his age at conviction, I would say he is probably guilty of the trend of "criminalizing teen sex" . I get so frustrated when I see that some teenager is locked up for years because they had sex with a consenting other teenager. It's wrong to destroy the futures of young people, and I don't see many girls going to prison for teen sex. It's always the young men who end up with a criminal record and prison time. I highly doubt he was filming children for nefarious reasons. He was probably just taking video for the very reason he said, to put it online and get some hits, so Youtube would pay him.

  • Roger Connor Oct 23, 2015
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    So, if i read this right, it is NOT illegal to fly a model aircraft over the Fair Grounds unless it is launched from or landed on State property.

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