COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A drone pilot accused of causing players to evacuate during the Saturday game at Ohio Stadium told police he bought the aircraft the day before at Best Buy.
Rigoberto Canaca Escoto, 28, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, faces charges including:
- Unsafe operation of aircraft in a careless or reckless manner
- Two counts of aircraft operation without a license
- Inducing panic by committing an offense with reckless disregard
- Disorderly conduct in a physically offensive condition
Multiple public safety officials spotted a drone flying from Lennox Town Center and heading for Ohio Stadium around 12:20 p.m., shortly after Ohio State’s game against Maryland began. When the drone flew directly over the stadium, the NCAA officiating crew stopped the game and evacuated players from the field, according to a criminal complaint document from Franklin County Municipal Court.
The drone then flew back to Lennox Town Center, where Columbus police officers from the counterterrorism unit followed and tracked down Canaca Escoto. They ordered him to land his drone before detaining him for investigation, according to the court record.
A detective wrote that Canaca Escoto told him he had bought the drone from Best Buy the day before and wanted to show it to his coworkers. The criminal complaint said he also admitted that he had no TRUST certificate or basic aerial safety knowledge and wanted to “see how far he could fly the drone.” While flying toward Ohio Stadium, Canaca Escoto told the detective he lost sight of it.
“Rigoberto stated that, while over the crowded stadium, he lost control of the aircraft for a period of approximately three minutes, creating an additional risk of physical harm to all attendees,” the detective wrote in the criminal complaint.
The drone’s flight over Ohio Stadium during a game would also violate a temporary flight restriction, a no-fly zone made in a three-mile radius around stadiums by the Federal Aviation Administration from one hour before sports games until one hour after. NBC4 contacted the FAA and asked if there would be any federal charges related to the violation, but the agency had not responded as of Monday morning.
Canaca Escoto had his arraignment hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, according to Franklin County Municipal Court records. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and also filed an indigent application, meaning he requested a public defender to represent him in court. The judge ordered him to stay away from the incident location as a condition of his bond.
See a legally captured drone flight over Ohio Stadium in the video player below.
The counterterrorism unit previously accused another drone pilot of illegally flying over Ohio Stadium, but that case did not end with conviction. Police claimed he also violated a TFR, but the case affidavit showed he flew over 10 hours before a 7:30 p.m. game.
Still, the pilot did not have his Part 107 or TRUST certifications and was originally charged with two counts of operating an aircraft without a license. But a Franklin County Municipal Court judge dismissed both charges against the pilot and closed the case on Feb. 16.
The TRUST certificate is required by law for recreational drone pilots to show proof that they have passed an aviation knowledge and safety test, and a Part 107 license is a requirement for pilots doing commercial work, according to the FAA. Any drone pilot who wants to fly in controlled airspace — common in cities and near airports — has to have one of these certifications and request authorization before flying.
Another pilot, Dailon Dabney, pleaded guilty to federal charges after flying his drone into the Cincinnati Bengals’ stadium during a Jan. 15, 2022, game. He was not a properly certified pilot, and after flying through the stadium, he posted videos captured by the drone to social media and a YouTube channel.
Ohio State defeated Maryland 37-17. It also announced on Monday its kickoff time against Penn State. The Buckeyes are set to play at noon on Oct. 21 at Ohio Stadium.