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."
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