Drone operator chased, tased by ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A drone operator was chased and tased by a ranger at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
The confrontation happened after park rangers say the man refused to cooperate when he was caught using a drone to video the Kilauea volcano in an area where massive crowds have been gathering at night to witness the rising lava lake.
Several people who witnessed the situation on Saturday night reached out to Hawaii News Now -- most, describing the incident as excessive and unnecessary -- but park officials say their actions were warranted to keep a crowd of hundreds safe.
Travis Sanders says he brought his family to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park because he heard the rising lava lake at Halema'uma'u Crater looked incredible -- and he took his 3-inch micro quadcopter drone to capture the action.
"My toy has some lights on it so I thought it would be fun to fly it up and down -- no big deal, right? Well apparently they're not allowed there I found out," said Sanders.
"It's illegal to fly an unmanned aircraft in all 407 national park units across the United States. That national policy was enacted in August of last year and the reason is for visitor and resource protection and visitor enjoyment," said Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane.
35-year-old Sanders says he didn't see any signs posted, but park officials say it is included in their list of rules on the website.
"A guy approached me in the dark and said, 'Bring it down!' and he was very angry. I had no idea he was a ranger. He sounded very angry, confrontational -- like he wanted to fight -- and I didn't really want to stick around for it so I just told him, 'I don't have ID and I'm leaving'," described Sanders.
"The suspect refused to identify himself and fled -- not far from the edge of the caldera, which is more than 500 feet. The ranger deployed his taser to stop the fleeing suspect and then arrested the suspect for failure to comply with a lawful order and interferring with agency functions," said Ferracane.
Sanders says his family -- and at least a hundred others -- saw the whole thing.
"My daughter was crying. She was screaming, 'Leave him alone! I hate you!' and she started going after the park ranger guy," Sanders said. "There was a whole bunch of people going, 'Don't worry man, we got it on video. He's not going to do anything else to you,' but he kept threatening to tase me again as if I was moving or something and the only thing that was moving was my mouth I was sayingm, 'Okay, okay. I'm not moving. I'm not getting up. I'm not resisting you," Sanders said.
Park officials say it's an ongoing investigation, but the law enforcement ranger -- who is certified to carry a taser -- acted in the best interest of public safety.
"Apparently the suspect was very unpredictable and very unruly and the national park service ranger was really unclear what his next actions would be and needed to stop this individual," said Ferracane.
Officials say this is the first time somebody was taken into custody for flying a drone unlawfully in the national park, but it's not the first time a taser been used. They say there have been less than five incidents since law enforcement rangers started carrying them in 2008.
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