Penalties Increased for Flying Drones over a Wildfire in Utah

Following repeated disruptions to wildfire suppression in southern Utah, lawmakers have increased penalties for flying drones over an active wildfire and authorities now have permission to disable or destroy the pesky unmanned aircraft.

Saddle Fire

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

A lightning strike on a mountainous ridge southwest of the small town of Pine Valley, Utah started a fire that has now been burning for over a month, threatening residents and destroying nearly 2,300 acres of coniferous trees in the Dixie National Forest. While the blaze was naturally occurring and not human-caused, someone has repeatedly slowed fire control efforts and put homes and lives at risk by flying hobby drones nearby.

Safety risk

Drones above Wildfire

Photo by: Tony Alter

When a drone is spotted near a wildfire, attending fire crews will ground all aircraft needed to fight the blaze. This is due to the risk of the unmanned drones colliding with a human occupied fire control aircraft and damaging a helicopter’s rotor blades or being sucked through the intake. Any collision of the two aircraft would risk the safety of the individuals flying the helicopter along with those on the ground.

Every minute counts

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Every minute counts when fighting wildfires. When fire suppression aircraft are grounded even for a brief amount of time, wildfires can shift and grow rapidly which further hinders any chance of containment. The containment of the Saddle Fire in southern Utah has seen multiple delays due to drones flying in the restricted area. Following the first delay the fire grew and moved quickly, causing an evacuation order to be issued for the residents in Pine Valley. Following these and many other wildfire suppression delays, laws have now been changed.

Penalties for drones near wildfires

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

The drone bill HB0126 signed last Wednesday now allow authorities to jam a drone’s signal to bring it down and increase charges to: a class B misdemeanor for flying in a restricted wildfire area; a class A misdemeanor if fire crews have to ground an aircraft; a third degree felony if a drone collides with an aircraft; and a second degree felony if a drone causes a fire suppression aircraft to crash. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted the following statement following the bill signing: “Today’s special session vote sends a strong message to Utahns that we will not tolerate reckless drone interference near wildfires.”

Assault on a Pregnant Woman

A Spanish Fork man was arrested last week for charges related to assault on a pregnant woman after he sexually and physically assaulted a woman and locked her in the basement.

Physical and sexual assault

Photo by: Teresa Rodríguez

Photo by: Teresa Rodríguez

32 year old Jeff Jackson was arrested December 31st 2015 after the pregnant woman he assaulted contacted police after escaping from the basement in which she was temporarily being held captive. The victim had signs of physical abuse such as bite indentations and bruising along with other nondisclosed injuries. The abuse also took place in front of the victim’s minor children. Jackson is facing sexual offenses along with aggravated assault.

Taking food from a pregnant woman

Photo by: KittyKaht

Photo by: KittyKaht

Another case of assault on a pregnant woman happened in Salt Lake City earlier last month. An intoxicated man stumbling around in the parking lot of 7-11 approached an obviously pregnant woman leaving the convenient store and stole her pizza that she had just purchased. Stealing pizza from a pregnant woman is illegal (not to mention dangerous), and the intoxicated pizza thief made his charges worse by striking the pregnant woman in the face afterward.

Assault on a pregnant woman

Photo by: daniel julià lundgren

Photo by: daniel julià lundgren

Assault on a pregnant woman carries higher penalties as the stress of the assault could lead to health complications such as premature labor. According to Utah Code 76-5-102, simple assault is class B misdemeanor. This is unless there is “substantial bodily injury” or in a case of assault on a pregnant woman, in which it therefore becomes a class A misdemeanor. The charges are only increased however if it known that the woman is pregnant. Until a woman is further along in her pregnancy, it is often difficult to tell that she is with child without asking (which is strongly discouraged). For those facing assault on a pregnant woman when it was unknown that the other party was pregnant, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss how to proceed.

Weather Related Reckless Driving

Reckless driving brings to mind someone driving quickly and erratically, yet it can often be related to driving at normal speeds in bad weather.

Snow on the road

Photo by: Paul Heaberlin

Photo by: Paul Heaberlin

Early Saturday morning the entire Wasatch Front woke up to snowfall. While the wintry wonderland is beautiful to look at or play in, it can be treacherous for drivers. Once roads were reopened, all along I-15 were signs warning drivers to slow down and to be aware of icy roads. Completely ignoring these warnings, many drivers continued to fly down the interstate at regular freeway speeds. Because of weather related reckless driving, several accidents occurred over the weekend resulting in numerous injuries and one death.

Alter driving for weather

When drivers travel at posted speeds but there is weather present that may limit their visibility or stopping time, they may receive a moving violation for driving too fast for conditions. Depending on the severity of the circumstances, drivers may end up facing charges of reckless driving instead. Utah Code 41-6-528 states: “A person is guilty of reckless driving who operates a vehicle: in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property; […]”. Reckless driving is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Reckless driving charges may be subjective

Photo by: Nicholas A. Tonelli

Photo by: Nicholas A. Tonelli

Utah has regular speed limits posted yet nowhere to be found are there separate speed limits for varying degrees of rain, fog, snow, or wind. For this reason, how fast a driver can safely travel is really up to the individual to determine what they are comfortable with. These guidelines that can end with charges for driving too fast for conditions or the related reckless driving are therefore subjective and may be challenged in court. For more information on fighting weather related reckless driving charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.