WATERVILLE — A man who admitted twice firing a shotgun to warn a hovering paraglider away from his property faces a charge of unlawfully displaying a weapon.
Stephen B. Flinn, 66, must go before a Douglas County District Court judge Sept. 10. The charge is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Flinn told Douglas County sheriff’s deputies he’d been having problems with gliders “trespassing on his property,” according to police reports. On July 2, a paraglider phoned deputies from Chelan Falls to report that a man had fired a gun and yelled at the glider while he flew above Flinn’s 25-acre parcel.
The paraglider said he launched from Chelan Butte and was trying to regain height on thermal drafts that rise up the eastern Columbia River cliffs, near Flinn’s home on Box Canyon Road east of Chelan Falls. He said he was drifting on air currents some 60 to 80 feet over Flinn’s house when a man discharged the shotgun and swore at him for trespassing.
Flinn told deputies he was in his living room when he saw the glider fly past his window, went outside with his shotgun and fired a round into the air “to get (the glider’s) attention,” police reports said.
The paraglider told police he swore at Flinn and threatened to come to his house and assault him after Flinn fired the first shot. He said as he steered his craft away, Flinn “shot at him two more times.” Flinn admitted firing another shot but said he fired only two times total, aiming into the air well away from the paraglider.
The victim was not injured and his equipment was not damaged.
Sheriff’s deputies confiscated Flinn’s gun, a Savage 12-gauge, and said they recovered a spent shell from his driveway. They said Flinn agreed to call police in the future rather than confront paragliders while armed.
Douglas County deputy prosecutor Gordon Edgar filed the charge against Flinn July 25, after the sheriff’s department referred the case to his office. Flinn was arraigned Aug. 7.
Douglas County Prosecutor Steve Clem said the gross misdemeanor charge was more appropriate to the case than a felony charge of assault.
“There was no attempt by the property owner to injure the paraglider by aiming at him and shooting at him,” Clem said.
Flinn’s attorney, John Brangwin, called the issue of airborne trespassing “a really interesting legal question that I don’t yet have the answer to.”
“Mr. Flinn’s position is going to be the glider came dangerously close to his property, and he was protecting himself and his property.”
Chelan Butte, a former fire lookout site more than 3,800 feet high at its peak, is a premier launch point for paragliders and hang gliders to cruise the Columbia River air currents. It’s the site of multiple gliding events each year, including the coming Fly and Bike Festival scheduled for Sept. 28.
Brangwin said Flinn, formerly of Bothell, “moved to a very rural part of Douglas County to get away from the rat race that is the Seattle area, and even the Wenatchee area. … Instead, the rats have sprouted wings and are like pigeons all over his property.”