Travis Lenhoff, a 38-year-old man from Northern Kentucky, found himself facing federal charges after he sent a drone up to capture a photo of himself and his friends at the Moerlein Lager House near Great American Ballpark on Opening Day in April 2022.
After the drone returned, Lenhoff was confronted by authorities and later charged with a federal crime that could lead to up to three years in prison.
Unbeknownst to Lenhoff, he needed to register the drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and adhere to a temporary flight restriction (TFR) around the stadium.
Drone enthusiast hopes other learn from his mistakes
On Tuesday, Lenhoff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, expressing his hope that others would learn from his mistakes.
As part of a deal with federal prosecutors, he is expected to receive a sentence of one year of probation and 40 hours of community service. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott could depart from the agreement, but it is unlikely. A sentencing hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
Lenhoff was not the only individual to plead guilty to drone-related crimes in federal court on Tuesday. Dailon Dabney, a 24-year-old from Springfield Township, admitted to operating a drone that flew into the stadium formerly known as Paul Brown Stadium during the January 15, 2022 playoff game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Court documents reveal that Dabney's drone, a DJI Mavic Air 2, hovered over players and the stadium crowd during the game.
Dabney pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge as Lenhoff, and in accordance with an agreement with prosecutors, is expected to be sentenced to one year of probation. U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland is presiding over Dabney's case.
Authorities stressed the illegality of flying drones over stadiums designated as Temporary Flight Restriction zones during sporting events. In the cases of both Lenhoff and Dabney, unauthorized drones were not permitted to fly within the zone from one hour before to one hour after the games.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker reportedly issued a statement, warning against the illegal use of drones at events like Reds and Bengals games, even if there is no intent to cause harm. He emphasized that such actions pose a direct risk to both the players and the spectators in the stands.
Lenhoff urged those who intend to purchase a drone or who already own an unregistered one to register it with the FAA. Federal law dictates that any drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must be registered with the agency. Lenhoff, who identified himself as a hobby photographer, no longer possesses the drone involved in the incident.
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