This weekend, Laytonville resident Tiffany Bruce felt compelled to warn her Long Valley neighbors of a suspicious circumstance witnessed by her employee outside of her property. On Saturday, May 22, 2021, her employee was driving at 7:45 a.m. near the 46800 block of Highway 101 when they saw a man outside a minivan piloting a drone. When the drone pilot noticed he had been seen, he grabbed the unmanned aerial vehicle out of the air and quickly drove away.
The drone pilot was described as a man with short dark hair not wearing any sort of uniform. His vehicle did not have any logos that identified him as working in an official capacity.
We reached out to PG&E North Coast spokesman Deanna Contreras wondering if the drone pilot could be attached to a series of equipment inspections PG&E is conducting throughout the region.
After we described what Tiffany Bruce’s employee witnessed, Contreras said the behavior that was witnessed was not that of a PG&E contracted drone pilot. PG&E requires their employees in the field to wear bright colored vests, long sleeves/pants, work boots, and hard hats. They also wear ID badges.
Another indication that the described drone pilot was not a PG&E contractor, Conteras said, is the fact he was alone. All PG&E drone pilots work in pairs, one as a pilot and the other as the spotter.
We spoke with Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall about the utilization of drones for criminal exploits. He said that there have been numerous circumstances of drones being used to case cannabis properties, “getting the lay of the land before they commit a burglary.”
“Ukiah Police Department got in a pursuit with someone with several pounds of cannabis and found a drone in their vehicle,” Sheriff Kendall told us. He explained that the drone has become part of the criminal toolkit providing an aerial surveillance platform.
Regarding residents who might feel compelled to shoot down a drone, Sheriff Kendall insisted residents abstain due to the batteries within drones being prone to explode and catch fire, creating a wildland fire risk.
Bruce described her motivations to warn the Laytonville community of the suspicious activity: “When someone is standing at the bottom of your driveway getting a drone and then running across the highway getting in their vehicle and leaving, you don’t really feel comfortable or safe.”
She knew that “there are thieves that use this technology to case land, I wanted my community to be aware. We look out for each other up here.”
She told us that her post on the Laytonville/Branscomb Community Facebook page actually garnered someone else who said, they “saw a black minivan the next day around the same time just a quarter mile down the road.”
If you are in Mendocino County and suspect a drone above your property could be being used in a criminal manner, please contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086. If you are in Humboldt County, call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251.