Ranch Owner In Young County Admits Shooting A Crop-Dusting Aircraft Flying Near His Ranch
Multiple Bullets Struck and Damaged Aircraft
WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Stephen Paul Riley, 41, of Olney, Texas, appeared in federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas, this morning and pleaded guilty, before U.S. District Judge Reed C. O’Connor, to an Indictment charging one count of destruction of an aircraft. Riley, who will remain on bond, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for May 21, 2013, before Judge O’Connor. Today’s announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
According to documents filed in the case, at approximately 11:40 a.m., on February 22, 2008, as a pilot flew his crop-dusting aircraft over property adjacent to the Flying Lead Ranch (FLR), a commercial hunting and residential property owned and occupied by Riley, Riley shot the aircraft with a firearm, striking it with multiple bullets and damaging the aircraft. One bullet struck the rudder cable and nearly severed it. A bullet or bullet fragment also struck the V-strut bar, approximately one and one-half inches from the connector bolt. Bullets, or bullet fragments, caused a hole in the aircraft’s left rear wing and indentations on the plane’s left side. The bullet holes and other damage indicated that the aircraft had been shot by someone on the ground discharging a firearm upward into the air. The aircraft was leased by Keeter Aerial Spraying, of Olney, for commercial crop-dusting services in Texas and Oklahoma.
Documents filed further state that prior to the above-stated date, Riley threatened Keeter’s owner, both in person and by phone, that he would shoot down any crop-duster that flew over his hunting ranch. In August 2010, officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife, seeking evidence of illegal hunting, executed a search warrant at the FLR and discovered a disc that contained video footage of Riley firing approximately 23 shots at another Keeter aircraft spraying the same field in July 2007. In September 2010, when questioned by a Texas Ranger, Riley admitted to shooting at Keeter aircraft on more than one occasion, as he had threatened to do.
The case is being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Miller is in charge of the prosecution.