Monday, October 9, 2017

Bruno, Marion County, Arkansas: Resident cries foul over falling fowl



A Bruno resident has filed a complaint against Turkey Trot’s “Phantom Pilot” and the tradition of dropping live turkeys from an airplane.

Rose Hilliard of Bruno told The Baxter Bulletin that she went to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office on Monday to file a complaint against Mountain View pilot Dana Woods and several unnamed accomplices. Woods, a Mountain View pharmacist and city council member, admitted last year to being the anonymous pilot that has released turkeys over a creek near the festival in recent years.

The 72nd iteration of the festival returns to downtown Yellville on Oct. 13 and 14 offering live music, vendor booths, a parade and a “Miss Drumsticks” pageant.

The Turkey Drop, an unaffiliated event that is nonetheless synonymous with Turkey Trot, involves live turkeys being dropped out of a low-flying plane along Crooked Creek, two blocks from downtown Yellville. The turkeys typically flutter to the ground, where they are chased down by festival attendees.

More than a dozen turkeys were released from an airplane during last year’s festival, with at least two failing to slow their descent and dying upon impact.

“[The sheriff] knows this is going to happen,” Hilliard said, referring to the Turkey Drop. “He’s been put on notice that a crime will happen.”

A Facebook page maintained by someone listed as “The Phantom Pilot” includes a Sept. 28 post depicting an aerial photograph of the Marion County Courthouse in downtown Yellville. The photo’s caption reads, “Drop zone: Established. Payload release has been authorized.”

According to Arkansas Code 5-62-103, cruelty to animals is defined as when someone knowingly subjects an animal to cruel mistreatment; kills or injures an animal owned by another person without the owner’s consent; abandons an animal at a location without providing for the animal’s continued care; fails to supply an animal with sufficient food and water; fails to provide an animal with sufficient shelter consistent with that type of animal; or carries an animal in or upon a motorized vehicle or boat in a cruel or inhumane manner.

Under Arkansas law, cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $1,000 for each instance of abuse.

“If we were doing this to kittens and puppies, everyone would be up in arms,” Hilliard said. “But people say, ‘It’s a bird, it flys.’ But it’s not like releasing a hawk that soars away. They don’t really fly. They’re ground birds, like chickens.”

Hilliard described herself as an animal lover and said she is not directly affiliated with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the nation’s largest animal welfare organization and a vocal critic of the Turkey Drop.

“We have differing views on pets,” Hilliard said of PETA. “They oppose trap/spay/neuter programs, and that’s something that I support. But in the case of dropping the turkeys out of an airplane, they are right.”

Marion County Sheriff Clinton Evans said that a deputy was working on Hilliard’s complaint. If an investigation is warranted, Evans told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he will ask the Arkansas State Police to conduct it to avoid conflict-of-interest allegations.

Federal aviation investigators have said that the Turkey Drop does not violate any FAA rules because the turkeys are released over the creek bed and not the downtown festival itself. It is legal to drop items from airplanes provided the items do not harm people or damage property on the ground.

“If the sheriff followed me down the road and I started throwing puppies out on the creek bed or the side of the road, I would be arrested,” Hilliard said. “It’s the same thing, just a different animal.”

Woods told the Democrat-Gazette last year that he had been releasing turkeys at the festival for about 15 years. Newspaper photographs from the 2015 Turkey Trot revealed the identification number of Woods’ single-engine 1959 Cessna 182B.

There have been different Phantom Pilots over the years. A Roller Funeral Homes obituary for Harold C. Mears of Harrison, who died in July at the age of 84, describes Mears as “one of the first Phantom Pilots of Yellville’s Turkey Trot.”

The Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the festival, disavows any affiliation with the Turkey Drop or the Phantom Pilot persona.

“The Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce does not have a part in the release of turkeys from airplanes,” a letter from the Chamber’s board to the public posted online at www.yellville.com reads. “We are in charge of planning the events that take place at the festival, the booths that are set up on our courthouse square, and the selling of Turkey Trot merchandise.

“The release of turkeys from planes has been a part of Turkey Trot for many years, but a third-party individual, not affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, regulates it … Chamber board members, Turkey Trot sponsors, and Chamber members have absolutely no affiliation, jurisdiction, or control over what any individual does in his or her private plane in the air.”

Story and comments ➤ http://www.baxterbulletin.com

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