No Charges for Carlsbad Man in Beach Drone Dispute

"The drone fell to the ground and I considered it a closed case," Augustine Lehecka said. But it wasn't over.

In the latest battle over when and where drones should be allowed to fly, charges have now been dropped against a Carlsbad man accused of damaging a drone he felt was flying too close on a San Diego County beach.

"I feel wronged. I've been violated," Augustine Lehecka told NBC7, referring to the felony charges he initially faced in the case.

Lehecka spent Sunday at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. At one point, he says he noticed a drone with a camera mounted to it flying over the crowd.

"I almost felt like I was being watched by a peeping Tom," he said.

Lehecka says he also worried about the safety of his group because there were small children involved.

He says when the drone flew near enough to them, he took off his shirt, and threw it. The shirt got caught in the quad-copter's blades and brought it to the ground.

"The drone fell to the ground and I considered it a closed case," said Lehecka, but it wasn't over.

Someone called San Diego County sheriff's deputies and Lehecka was arrested 10 minutes later. He spent the night in jail and initially faced felony vandalism charges.

By Wednesday, those charges had been dropped, the San Diego County District Attorney's office confirmed. A spokesperson from the DA's office said the beach drone case was rejected, but released no further details.

"We do not discuss our charging decisions except to say we can only file charges when we believe we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt," the spokesperson told NBC 7.

Meanwhile, the pilot of the drone, who spoke with NBC 7 on the condition the station not use his name, released part of the video from Sunday. The video is shot from high above the crowd and the pilot claims Lehecka called him a pervert.

"You can clearly see that I was not invading anybody's privacy. I was just flying around the park," said the pilot.

The pilot says he recorded the drone being hit by the shirt, but is not releasing that part of the video for now. He claims Lehecka attacked the drone as it was landing just a few feet off the sand.

The pilot also says he relies on the drone for his work.

"He did $750 in damage to my quad copter, and that's my livelihood," said the pilot. "I'm in a world of hurt right now. I really am."

Right now, there is no law in California against flying drones in public places like a beach.

This week, lawmakers in Sacramento discussed a proposal to ban drones near emergency situations like wildfires. This follows multiple incidents around the state where aircraft had to be grounded during firefighting efforts because drones were spotted in the airspace. If that law passes, it could mean fines of up to $1,000 and possible jail time for anyone who interferes with first responders.

That law would not affect public places where there is no emergency, leaving what happened over the weekend in the gray area of the discussion on how to regulate drones.

After the initial felony vandalism charges, Lehecka said he planned to bring the issue to trial if necessary.

"I believe this may be the defining moment about flights over people," he said.

The pilot, on the other hand, says this particular incident could have ended much easier.

"Just pay for it so I can get back to work," said the pilot. "That's all I want."

On Wednesday, Lehecka confirmed no deal was made on his end leading to the charges being dropped in the case. He said he had received a lot of support from people on his side of the drone dispute.

Contact Us