Police have charged a 66-year-old Crawfordville man who piloted an Ultralight that careened into an Alligator Point woman in June along the beach, causing serious injuries, with operating an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Jimmie A. Smith was arrested Nov. 8 for a a third degree felony of having flown an aircraft recklessly or while intoxicated, after blood test results came back that showed he was likely drunk, plus possibly stoned on pot and sedatives on Friday afternoon, June 3, when he flipped 52-year-old Nonda Meng on the back of her neck as she ran from his out-of-control aircraft.
Meng sustained seven fractured right ribs, four of them broken in two places, as well as a fracture of a neck bone in her spinal column and a collapsed right lung, according to a report compiled by Lt. R. J. Shelley of the county sheriff’s office.
In addition to obtaining reports of eyewitnesses who said they saw the right tip of Smith’s aircraft catch the water and cartwheel on to the beach, Shelley was able to secure County Judge Van Russell’s permission to search the aircraft.
Commonly known as a “Fat Ultralight,” the aircraft is classified one rung above the most basic, lightest, unlicensed five-gallon version of these planes. These planes carry more gas, are heavier than 254 pounds, and are required to have an FAA issued registration certificate, an air worthiness certificate and an FAA issued pilot license to fly.
In his warranted search a week after the mishap, Shelley recovered 170 videos and 13 photographs from a memory card found with the digital camera mounted on the plane.
The videos showed, according to Shelley’s report, that the aircraft had flown at various altitudes, sometimes as low as 15 feet off the ground, prior to the 3:50 p.m. mishap.
“Prior to the crash, Mr. Smith is flying at what appears to be a high-safe altitude over the open water,” read the report. “Mr. Smith makes a left turn towards the beach. He then appears to be approximately 10 feet off the surface of the water. The right wing then touches the water and turns the aircraft hard to the right.
“Ms. Meng can be seen trying to run away from the aircraft before it reaches her,” wrote Shelley. “The right wing then strikes Ms. Meng on the right shoulder, causing her to leave her feet, flipping her backwards. Ms. Meng appears to land on the back of her neck.”
Shelley’s description said the plane nosed into the sand, ejecting the pilot about 15 feet. “Mr. Smith then crawls back towards the plane, using it to pull himself up. Mr. Smith then falls before finally making it to his feet, to turn the aircraft off,” wrote the lieutenant.
The pilot’s behavior following the crash is described in the police report as being “loud and argumentative with a paramedic.” The report said Smith’s left heel had been cut badly “and looked to almost be amputated,” and his forehead was cut where he had hit his head.
Smith smelled of alcohol as well. “The paramedic pulled me to the side and stated that he didn’t believe Mr. Smith could decide for himself if he needed medical attention,” wrote Shelley.
After Smith refused medical attention, the Weems paramedic called the medical director, who told him Smith had no choice in the matter. The EMS crew loaded Smith into an ambulance to the Panacea airport, where Smith refused Lifeflight and had to be transported by ambulance to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Meng was also rushed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Shelley, who arrived on the scene at 1480 Alligator Drive at 5:12 p.m., about an hour after first responders first arrived, reported Smith had said he “was sorry for hitting the woman. He stated that he felt badly.”
The report indicates Smith was uncooperative when asked about his pilot’s license.
In his examination of the video recovered in the search, Shelley wrote that based on time stamps, Smith was seen “messing with the aircraft windshield” at 4:09 p.m., about 19 minutes after the crash occurred.
“At 4:17 p.m., Mr. Smith is seen drinking what appears to be water from a water bottle,” read the report. “Mr. Smith unmounts the camera, (and) can be heard telling (Alligator Point Fire) Chief (Steve) Fling he’s ok. At 4:52 p.m. a bystander is heard saying ‘There’s probably alcohol in there.’”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Ryan Miller also responded to the call, as did Deputy Kevin Shuman.’ Miller collected sworn statements from two eyewitnesses, Jeremy C. Stephens and Robert D. Heins, the latter of which described how the plane had cartwheeled onto the beach after the tip of its right wing caught the water.
In addition to his review of the video evidence, Shelley subpoenaed Smith’s 435-page medical record from TMH. The records said when Smith was admitted, he had “apparent intoxication with alcohol and marijuana." A 7 p.m. blood draw determined an alcohol level of 0.184, more than double the level considered impaired for motorists. A urine screen conducted at about 10 p.m. was positive for cannabinoids (pot) and benzodiazepines (a sedative found in Valium, Xanax and several other similar pharmaceuticals.)
An exam at 6:30 a.m. the next morning found Smith “was still uncooperative and argumentative,” read the report.
Smith, who was released on $15,000 bond and has not sought a public defender, has a court date of Dec. 5 before Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.