Man shoots down drone hovering over house

A Kentucky man thinks it's unacceptable when a drone floats over his property. So he shoots it down. Then the drone's owners come calling.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

William Merideth, drone shooter. WDRB-TV screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We need to talk anti-aircraft weaponry.

More and more so-called enthusiasts are sending drones into the sky. This means that more and more normal humans are becoming enthusiastic about shooting them out of the sky.

Especially, as in the case of William H. Merideth, the drone is hovering over your house.

Merideth, 47, lives in Hillview, Kentucky. As WDRB-TV reports, a neighbor heard gunshots and called the police. Merideth allegedly told the police that a drone was hovering over his house, where his teen daughter (he has two) was sunbathing. So he pulled out his gun and gave it a merry death.

The drone's owner, police say, said he was flying it to take pictures of a neighboring house.

However, Merideth told WRDB: "Well, I came out and it was down by the neighbor's house, about 10 feet off the ground, looking under their canopy that they've got under their back yard. I went and got my shotgun and I said, 'I'm not going to do anything unless it's directly over my property.'"

And then it allegedly was.

Merideth explained: "I didn't shoot across the road, I didn't shoot across my neighbor's fences, I shot directly into the air."

He says that shortly after the shooting, he received a visit from four men who claimed to be responsible for the drone, who explained that Merideth owed $1,800.

Merideth says he stood his ground: "I had my 40mm Glock on me and they started toward me and I told them, 'If you cross my sidewalk, there's gonna be another shooting.'"

There appears not to have been another shooting. However, Merideth was arrested for wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. There is, apparently, a local ordinance that says you can't shoot a gun off in the city, but the police charged him under a Kentucky Revised Statute.

I contacted both the Hillview Police Department to ask for its view on proceedings. I will update, should I hear. However, an FAA spokesman told me: "Shooting at aircraft poses a significant safety hazard. An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air. Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil charges."

The FAA's recommendations include not flying above 400 feet and "Don't fly near people or stadiums." The FAA adds: "You could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft."

For his part, Merideth says he will sue the drone's owners. He told WRDB: "You know, when you're in your own property, within a six-foot privacy fence, you have the expectation of privacy. We don't know if he was looking at the girls. We don't know if he was looking for something to steal. To me, it was the same as trespassing."

It is, indeed, hard to know whether things that buzz in the sky have positive or negative intentions. Amateur drones disrupted efforts to fight recent California wildfires to such a degree that there's now a $75,000 reward for anyone who identifies those responsible. A Southern California lawmaker has created a bill that would make it legal for the authorities to shoot these drones out of the sky.

On the other hand, medical researchers are wondering if drones could be very useful in being able to quickly transport vital medical supplies.

It's not hard to have some sympathy with Merideth, if not with his draconian methods of sanction.

However, the drone's owner, David Boggs, has now come forward to suggest that Merideth's story may not be quite factual.

He has produced a video to WRDB that he says tracks the flight data recorder from his iPad. He said that at no point did the drone fly low over Merideth's property. He insists it never went below 193 feet.

He also disputes that the drone hovered. He said of his flight data video: "We are right now 1 minute, 56 seconds over the drone slayer's house. We're still not on his property line -- we're just now getting ready to cross it. In less than 2 seconds...we are outside of his property, still at 272 feet. He shot the drone here, and you'll see it rapidly lose altitude, and the drone crash. Boom -- there it goes."

This seems to be the only thing both parties agree on -- that there was a boom and there it went.

This case echoes one from last year when a New Jersey man allegedly took a hovering drone out with a bullet.

But this sort of incident will only get more complicated as companies such as Amazon begin to fly drones that deliver underwear and nail clippers.

Drones aren't supposed to fly over buildings. Surely Amazon's flying machines won't be able to avoid such an event.

Please imagine your neighborhood airspace suddenly full of undergarments, toys, books and other coveted items floating through the air after the drone carrying them was shot down.

Every day will feel like Christmas.

Update, July 31 at 7:39 a.m. PT:Adds comment from FAA.
Update, July 31 at 4:54 p.m. PT
: Adds comment from drone owner.