Atlantic Beach Resident Pleads Guilty To Making False Distress Calls To The U.S. Coast Guard
RALEIGH – United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced that today in federal court, before United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, HOMER LEWIS BLACKBURN , 27, of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, entered a guilty plea to making false distress calls to the United States Coast Guard.
According to information in the public record, on October 8, 2013, Coast Guard Sector North Carolina received a “MayDay” call in which the caller claimed he was sinking and abandoning his boat in the vicinity of Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks, North Carolina. Upon receipt of the distress call, the U.S. Coast Guard, assisted by the U.S. Marine Corps, the National Park Service and a local salvage company commenced search and rescue operations using helicopters and boats to search the area. Ultimately, the Coast Guard determined that the call was a hoax, but not until after $288,390.80 worth of resources were expended.
Shortly thereafter, Coast Guard Investigative Service (“CGIS”) began an investigation and received information from a witness who identified the caller as HOMER LEWIS BLACKBURN and confirmed it was a hoax. The witness stated that BLACKBURN used a CB radio he mounted to the balcony of his apartment in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina to make the call. She heard him saying,“Mayday, Mayday” and that he was sinking in the vicinity of Cape Lookout, NC. She then told officers that BLACKBURN went out to the balcony to watch the helicopters search Cape Lookout. When the press reported that the call was a hoax, BLACKBURN sent the witness a text message on her phone asking her not to tell anyone about the call.
During the investigation, another witness came forward and claimed that BLACKBURN bragged about making the hoax calls, BLACKBURN admitted he reported that he was sinking off Cape Lookout, and that he, BLACKBURN, thought the calls were funny.
BLACKBURN subsequently confessed to making the hoax calls.
"False distress calls limit the Coast Guard's ability to respond to actual emergencies," said Captain Sean Murtagh, commander of Sector North Carolina. "Ultimately, they penalize the local communities and mariners the Coast Guard is charged to protect by unnecessarily endangering the lives of responders and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars. Through the vigilance of the public, our strong partnerships with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and our Coast Guard Investigative Service, this case affirms our collective commitment to holding accountable those individuals who make hoax calls."
The maximum penalty that BLACKBURN faces at sentencing is six years imprisonment, a $250,000.00 fine and restitution of all costs incurred by the Coast Guard.
The search and rescue efforts were led by United States Coast Guard – 5th District and Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. The criminal investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service. Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan is handling the prosecution of the case.