A dry run for a prank intended for a high school football game in New Jersey went horribly wrong on Wednesday, with the pilot of an airplane dropping toilet paper over a school field where young soccer players were practicing, leading to the involvement of local and federal police involvement and, eventually, the man's arrest.
According to the Associated Press and NorthJersey.com, a Cessna 172S was seen making circles above an athletic field near Westwood Regional Schools complex on Wednesday evening, dropping toilet paper on each pass over the school's athletic field. According to CliffviewPilot.com and NorthJersey.com, the pilot of the plane was 60-year-old Warren Saunders (at right entering a New Jersey court on Thursday), who was practicing for a streamer drop he planned for Westwood Regional (N.J.) High's football game against Mahwah (N.J.) High on Saturday.
Saunders is the father of a Westwood Cardinals football player, and NorthJersey.com reported that police were able to locate Saunders via a posting on his son's Facebook wall. Saunders was briefly taken into custody before being released, and, according to 1010 WINS radio in New York, is now being charged with a complaint under Title 6:2-11.
"It's basically a fourth-degree crime of dropping things from a plane," Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino told the Cliffview Pilot. "There were only three rolls dropped. They apparently got wet on the way down. One fell on the right, another fell on the edge of the field near the bleachers and a third fell near a wooded area."
For his part, Saunders only answered one question from a reporter, which asked whether his aerial stunt was well intentioned. According to NorthJersey.com, this was his response:
"Yes, it was," he said.
Well intentioned or not, Saunders' prank has now landed him in hot water with both local authorities and the Federal Aviation Authority. One FAA official said that the agency planned a full investigation of the incident and Saunders' background. The local charges facing Saunders alone could cost him $1,000 and up to a year in prison, though additional charges levied later could lengthen both of those terms.
Saunders' neighbors told NorthJersey.com that they were shocked he was involved in the stunt.
"If you were to ask me would he do anything like that, I would say no," Mike Arrington, a Saunders family neighbor, told NorthJersey.com. "Especially with small planes and all the talk of terrorists going from larger planes to smaller planes, I could understand why people would be upset. ... It's just hard to believe he would do something like that."
Regino said that local authorities took the incident very seriously, and would make sure that prosecutors did as well. Here's what the Westwood Police Chief told the Cliffview Pilot:
"I'm very grateful we have the ability at this point to sit back to make toilet-paper jokes, considering the potential here. This could have been very serious," the chief said. "Between the kids and the adults, you had 100 people on or around that field.
"It was more than an error in judgment."