Armed man arrested as Obama leaves Asheville
Posted April 26, 2010 6:10 a.m. EDT
Updated April 26, 2010 11:44 a.m. EDT
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — An armed man who was spotted at a North Carolina airport parking lot just after Air Force One departed Sunday and said he wanted to see President Barack Obama was to appear before a judge Monday.
Authorities arrested Joseph Sean McVey, 23, of Coshocton, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon at the Asheville Regional Airport and charged him with going armed in terror of the public, a misdemeanor.
A first appearance in court was scheduled for Monday, said Sgt. John Lutz of the Buncombe County jail, where McVey was being held on $100,000 bond.
McVey told an officer in the airport parking lot he wanted to see the president and he had a car equipped with police gear, including a siren and flashing lights, though he did not work in law enforcement, authorities said.
Security was heightened at the airport Sunday because President Barack Obama was leaving after spending the weekend vacationing in Asheville.
At about 2 p.m., airport police saw McVey get out of a maroon car with Ohio plates and that he had a sidearm, airport police Capt. Kevan Smith said. Both airport police and the Secret Service questioned him and he was taken into custody. The suspect was nowhere near the president's plane, which had just departed, and was in a rental car return lot that is open to the public, Smith said.
His car was equipped with clear LED law enforcement-style strobe lights in the front and rear dash, Smith said. The car also had a mounted digital camera in the front window, four large antennas on the trunk lid, and under the steering wheel was a working siren box.
When McVey got out of the car, he was listening to a handheld scanner and radio that had a remote earpiece, Smith said. Police said he was monitoring local agencies and had formulas for rifle scopes on a note in his cup holder.
Authorities did not say if McVey had a rifle or scope with him.
A rifle scope formula is a set of calculations that helps a shooter adjust for distance from a target. The formulas, which estimate how much a bullet drops after it is fired, are generally in the information packet that comes with a scope purchased for hunting or recreation, said Greg A. Danas, a firearms expert based in Massachusetts.
McVey gave authorities an Ohio driver's license, but a computer check failed to show the number was valid, police said. His hometown of Coshocton is about halfway between Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.
When Officer Kaleb Rice asked him what he was doing, McVey told him he heard the president was in town and wanted to see him.
Rice removed the firearm and took McVey into custody.
The investigation into what McVey was doing with a gun, with formulas for rifle scopes and why his car was equipped with police gear was continuing, Smith said. The Secret Service had no comment on the arrest Sunday, deferring to airport police.
In Ohio, a man answering the door Monday at McVey's home address said he had no comment.
Randy Fisher, president of the Coshocton County Amateur Radio Association, said McVey was a ham radio enthusiast who had come several times to the group's monthly meetings over the last year or two. Fisher said he was shocked to hear of the arrest and said he last talked with McVey about a week ago via radio and always found him friendly and interesting to talk to.
"I was impressed that he was a public-service-minded type of individual. He really enjoyed using his ham radio for emergency services and that sort of thing," Fisher said.
For two years, McVey has been a member of a volunteer organization in his home area that assists the sheriff's department with traffic control at emergency scenes, said Tim Wise, president of Coshocton County REACT, or Radio Emergency Association Citizen Team.
Wise said he was inclined to believe McVey's arrest resulted from a misunderstanding.
"Everything they found on him, with the exception of a gun, he basically had all that when he was in Coshocton," Wise said Monday. "He just basically liked to monitor police frequencies and listen to what's going on."
That's common for REACT members, though members of the organization are not authorized to have police sirens and lights or break the speed limit on the way to emergencies, Wise said.
McVey had to be warned about his speed while responding to REACT calls, Wise said.
"He's kind of a go-getter, and I know we had to kind of clip his wings a couple times and tell him he needed to watch what he was doing out there and slow down a little bit," Wise said.
McVey had a webcam in his car because he liked to chase severe storms. Wise said he was unaware McVey had a gun, but said with certainty he did not believe McVey would ever want to harm the president.
Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Coshocton, Ohio, contributed to this report.