Thursday, March 30, 2017

Homeless Man Knocked Out Radar, Landing Light at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (KPHX) After Release From Jail

Michael Preston, sporting a clean-shaven look in his latest mugshot.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

Preston's February mugshot.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office


UPDATE: Officials with the airport and Federal Aviation Administration dispute the police account, saying a landing light was never turned off. Backup radar covered the radar tower that was turned off, they say. Officials still haven’t commented on how Preston accessed the secure area. 

Michael Preston's most recent alleged vandalism could have caused an airplane crash, records indicate.

As New Times reported on Wednesday, the 41-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of vandalism at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport that shut off a radar tower and an airport landing light on February 20.

Five days earlier, Preston had been arrested in a similar case involving transmission-tower equipment on South Mountain, but he was released from jail without bail.

Police said that sometime between about 10 p.m. on February 19 and 5 a.m. on February 20, Preston entered a secured area on a Sky Harbor airfield without authorization.

He shut off breaker switches for climate-control units that cool airport radar, according to a police booking sheet.

The subsequent overheating caused wire damage that knocked out a radar tower and a radio transmitter. He removed batteries and wires to an airport gate, damaging the gate electronics. And he opened an electrical panel and shut off breakers at the end of runway 25L, "causing the landing light to turn off."

"These lights are critical for the safe landing of aircraft on this runway at a major and very busy airport," police said.

Officials didn't say how long the equipment remained disabled.

Preston also reportedly damaged a power box and antenna for National Weather Service equipment.

The equipment is owned and maintained by the city of Phoenix for Sky Harbor, police said.

New Times asked the city of Phoenix Aviation Department about the incident; officials said they would look into the matter and possibly release a statement.

The Sky Harbor incident wouldn't have happened if Preston had been held on bail following the alleged vandalism at South Mountain.

In that case, police said that about 7 a.m. on February 15, Preston crawled under a security fence on the summit of South Mountain and damaged transmission-tower equipment, knocking out several local TV and radio signals for about an hour.

Police wanted him charged with felony trespassing, criminal damage, and burglary. Early the next day, Maricopa County Court Commissioner Sigmund Popko released Preston on his own recognizance. The move follows a trend in the Arizona court system, to be made official in April, that calls for the release of crime suspects who can't afford to post bail if they're not deemed a flight risk.

Police considered Preston an investigative lead in a third case, though it's not clear whether Popko had received that information.

A few hours before the early-morning South Mountain incident, police believe that Preston damaged radio and TV towers on Shaw Butte in North Phoenix, about 20 miles from South Mountain.

Armed with a court order, police found Preston on March 15 and obtained his DNA and fingerprints. He was released pending the results. A few days later, the crime lab matched Preston's fingerprints to those found at the Sky Harbor crime scene.

Late Saturday night, police located Preston again. He tried to flee from officers, records state, but was arrested.

Police, again, are asking for felony charges of trespassing, criminal damage and burglary. As of Thursday, Preston still hasn't been charged with any crime, records show.

This time, Preston's being held on a $5,000 cash bond. Court paperwork states that Preston "poses a danger to the community based on the alleged facts in this case."

Heather Lissner, a city of Phoenix spokeswoman, said that Preston's actions did not affect airport operations.

"No runway or taxiway lighting was turned off," she said. "One obstruction light on a radar tower was damaged and had to be replaced. There was some FAA navigational lighting which was not in use at the time turned off for up to two hours."

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, agreed that airport operations were unaffected.

However, officials still have not answered how Preston was able to access the secure area, or what is being done to prevent someone else from doing it.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com

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