A Washington man was recently charged with reckless endangerment after allegedly crashing a drone into the Space Needle on New Year's Eve.
As reported in the Seattle Times, Cole Kelley was piloting a drone that crashed into the Space Needle while pyrotechnicians were setting up the New Year's Eve fireworks display. If convicted of reckless endangerment, Kelley could face a $5,000 fine and up to 364 days in jail.
What is reckless endangerment in Washington?
According to Washington state law, a person may be guilty of reckless endangerment when: "he or she recklessly engages in conduct…that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person."
In order for someone to be found guilty of reckless endangerment, their reckless conduct doesn't have to actually hurt or kill someone. The reckless conduct must only create a substantial risk of serious injury or death.
In the charges against Kelley, the Washington state attorney claims that the drone was dangerously close to electrical wires being used for the fireworks display. The charges also claim that simply being struck by Kelley's 7-pound drone could have seriously injured or killed one of the workers.
"Factual impossibility" is a common defense against charges of reckless endangerment. If a defendant can demonstrate that it was factually impossible for someone to be injured or killed, then the state cannot prove that there was a "substantial risk" of serious injury or death. For example, someone could potentially be charged with reckless endangerment for waving a gun in the air. But if the gun was unloaded, it would be factually impossible for the person's actions to cause serious injury or death.
Who is likely to be charged with reckless endangerment?
In recent years, several people have been charged with reckless endangerment in Washington due to drone accidents. But you are much more likely to be charged with reckless endangerment in a motor vehicle-related situation.
Reckless endangerment is part of a spectrum of driving-related crimes that carry different potential penalties under Washington law:
- Negligent driving can be either an infraction or (if drugs or alcohol are involved) a misdemeanor. It occurs when someone operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers, or is likely to endanger, any person or property. If convicted of negligent driving in the 1st degree, you could face up to 90 days in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Reckless endangerment is a "gross" (or more serious) misdemeanor. Conviction carries potential penalties of up 364 days in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, as previously noted.
- Reckless driving is also a gross misdemeanor. It is defined as driving any “vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Potential penalties are the same as for reckless endangerment. In addition, a conviction for reckless driving will also result in a mandatory 30-day license suspension and the potential installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID).
- Driving under the influence (DUI) is usually a gross misdemeanor, with penalties such as license suspension, fines and jail time. But it can also be a felony with far more severe penalties, depending on the circumstances.
The crimes of reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and negligent driving are usually less serious than DUI. If you have been charged with DUI, an experienced Washington DUI attorney may be able to get your charges reduced to one of these lesser crimes. Contact Washington DUI attorney Steve Karimi for a free consultation.