Springdale Township neighbors at odds over drone
When a high-tech drone flew into the middle of a neighborhood squabble in Springdale Township, both sides were angry.
Monday's damage resolution didn't fully satisfy them, either.
Martina Wlodarski, 65, of Main Street, insisted she acted in self defense when she threw what she described as “driveway gravel” at next-door neighbor Mark Shock's drone buzzing at her Aug. 30.
This may be the first case involving a drone to land in criminal court in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Across the country, several cases involve people upset with similar drones using guns, usually shotguns, to shoot the craft down.
Users are waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to set regulations for the commercial use of drones.
The devices are the focus of legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including one seeking a study on the use of drones by state and local agencies, including police. A House bill would require all but law enforcement or military drones to fly below 3,000 feet and not within 3 miles of a stadium.
Shock's drone had four propellers cranking at 14,000 revolutions per minute, making it highly maneuverable.
Shock, 49, said for most of the two-hour flight, he flew the craft about 160 feet. He brought it down slowly, he said, as it was getting dark.
That's when Wlodarski came out of her house to investigate a strange noise. She stood next to a family van, out of Shock's view.
Suddenly, Wlodarski said, the noise came at her and she was terrified.
“It sounded like a weed-wacker or something coming at me at eye level. I didn't have a choice. No one told me it was under control,” she said after a short proceeding at the office of Harmar District Judge David J. Sosovicka.
Although Wlodarski still feels justified in tossing gravel and hitting the drone, she agreed to pay $600 in restitution to repair the 3½-pound craft.
In return, Sosovicka dismissed a criminal mischief charge against her.
Wlodarski, who describes herself as a “retired homemaker” and grandmother, doesn't have a criminal record.
Shock remains unhappy that his neighbor damaged his drone on its first day of use.
After all, he said, he spent three months comparing smartphone controlled drones and picked a “high-end model,” then mounted a video camera on it.
Shock said he wanted to use it to take video of his three daughters playing soccer.
He alleges Wlodarski threw a rock at his drone “without regard” for the six people standing next to him to watch the drone's inaugural flight. He said it was under control until it was damaged by Wlodarski's rock.
“It was a rock, not gravel,” Shock said. “She could have hit us or hit a car because the rock was thrown in the direction of the road.”
He said he accepted the case resolution so he can get money to repair the drone sooner than later.
It was ‘gnarly'
Shock said he tried to land the drone with his cellphone remote control app, but the “catastropic damage” made the remote useless.
The drone's high-speed propellers make it potentially dangerous if it's out of control, he said.
“If the propellers hit someone in the face or neck, someone would be seriously hurt,” Shock said.
That's why, Shock said, he reached up that summer night to the disabled drone that was crazily circling just within his grasp.
Shock showed a reporter video showing him gingerly reaching between the whirling 10-inch long, propellers to turn off the drone.
The video shows him suddenly throwing his head back.
“That's when two propellers blades flew off the drone and almost hit me in the face,” he said.
“It got really gnarly for a while,” Shock said.
Wlodarski said she is unhappy.
She can't forget being fingerprinted and placed on bond.
The charge will remain on the state's criminal records unless she later gets it expunged.
“Can she go to Canada and get back in? It would still show up. How about a gun permit if she wants one,” her attorney, Michael G. Winklmann, asked.
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or email@example.com.