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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Man Pleads Guilty to Charge of Illegally Landing Airplane in Federal Wilderness

Spokane - Michael C. Ormsby, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Brent Dawson of Walla Walla, Washington recently plead guilty to illegally landing his airplane on Smooth Ridge during the fall of 2013 and 2014. Smooth Ridge is located in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area.

According to information disclosed during court proceedings, in the fall of 2014 a group of hunters, deep in the Wilderness, observed an airplane flying low and landing in a meadow on Smooth Ridge. These hunters were upset. As reported to Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Austin Hess, this was the second year an individual had accessed the Wilderness using the same airplane, with the plane’s tail numbers being removed in 2014. The hunters reported that they had spent time and energy accessing this remote, secluded area of the Wilderness to hunt, only then to discover that a pilot (that is, Dawson) simply flew his plane into the area. One of the hunters came forward, reported the incidences, and ultimately received a cash reward for his cooperation in the investigation.

Photos and detailed description of events provided by the hunters led to the identification of Dawson as being the owner of the plane. Forest Service Officer Hess confirmed that Dawson was the registered owner of the plane and that the area where he landed was in fact within the bounds of the Wilderness and thus not a designated landing area.

Michael C. Ormsby said, "Federal Wilderness lands are a treasure – especially here in the Northwest. This guilty plea shows our office’s commitment to preserving that treasure for future generations to enjoy."

The 1964 Wilderness Act defines "Wilderness" as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain. Wilderness act regulations prohibit the use or operation of motorized or mechanized equipment within a designated Wilderness Area. The crime of operating a motor vehicle in the wilderness is a Class B misdemeanor that has a maximum fine of $5000 and 6 months in jail.

The investigation was conducted by the United States Forest Service. The case was prosecuted by Legal Intern Corey Sewell and Assistant United States Attorney Tyler H.L. Tornabene.

Press Release Number: 
14-PO-00369-JTR
Updated June 16, 2015