Straight out of a modern crime drama, a 29-time convicted felon took aim at a Lake County Sheriff's Office police drone, bringing it down with a fiery crash. Now, he faces the potential of 10 years in prison for his actions.
Wendell D. Goney, a 52-year-old from Mount Dora, pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon with a firearm in connection to the 2021 incident. The court has yet to set a sentencing date for Goney. The full story, as reported by the Daily Commercial, unveils a series of events that sound more like a Hollywood script than reality.
The Night of the Drone Incident
The backdrop? July 11, 2021. Lake County Sheriff's deputies were investigating a burglary at a sprawling 10-acre warehouse and greenhouse in Eustis. To gain a bird's-eye view, they deployed a $30,000 drone, kitted out with infrared cameras and the latest tech gear.
Suddenly, shots rang out. Sgt. Chris Stevens recalls, “It sounded like a firecracker, but a .22-caliber rifle can sound like that. When I heard the second shot, someone yelled, ‘Someone's shooting at your drone!'”
To the shock of the officers, the drone made an abrupt turn, crashed onto a building's gutter, and erupted in flames.
Luckily, as Stevens stated, “It fell on a metal building, so it didn't cause any damage. I was grateful for that.”
Goney, the shooter, initially argued that the drone was “harassing” him. However, he later confessed to not having the right to possess a firearm.
A Troubled History
Digging deeper, Goney isn't new to the criminal justice system. With 29 felony convictions in Florida, his charges range from resisting arrest with violence to illegal possession of firearms. This incident placed Goney under the microscope of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, a collaboration between state and federal agencies aiming to decrease violent crimes.
Drones: A Modern Asset for Law Enforcement
This incident shines a light on the growing use of drones in policing. While the downed Police drone was replaced thanks to insurance, Lake County Sheriff's Lt. John Herrell mentioned a new law that grounded most of their drone fleet. This law restricts the use of drones from “countries of concern“, including China.
However, there's a silver lining. The sheriff's office plans to sell off 13 such drones and purchase new, approved models with state grant funds. The drones' success stories include preventing a potential suicide, assisting in Search and Rescue operations, and supporting Firefighters.
In comparison to a helicopter, drones prove to be a cost-effective solution. In fact, many deputies now carry them in their patrol cars, ready for rapid deployment.
Drones, once a futuristic concept, have become vital tools in modern law enforcement. But as their use increases, so do the challenges surrounding them, as showcased by Goney's case. It's a stark reminder of the intertwining of technology, law, and community safety in our contemporary world.
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