Ranch Owner Admits Shooting Crop-Dusting Aircraft

Ranch Owner Admits Shooting Crop-Dusting Aircraft

WICHITA FALLS - An Olney, Texas rancher pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to shooting a crop-dusting aircraft that flew over his land almost five years ago.

Stephen Paul Riley, 41, appeared in federal court in Wichita Falls and pleaded guilty, before U.S. District Judge Reed C. O'Connor, to an Indictment charging one count of destruction of an aircraft.

Riley, who will remain on bond, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for May 21, 2013, before Judge O'Connor.

Documents filed in the case stated at approximately 11:40 a.m., on February 22, 2008, a pilot flew his crop-dusting aircraft over property adjacent to the Flying Lead Ranch (FLR), a commercial hunting and residential property owned and occupied by Riley. Riley shot the aircraft with a firearm, striking it with multiple bullets and damaging the aircraft.  

One bullet struck and nearly severed the rudder cable. A bullet or bullet fragment also struck the V-strut bar, approximately one and one-half inches from the connector bolt. Bullets, or bullet fragments, caused a hole in the aircraft's left rear wing and indentations on the plane's left side.  

Documents filed further claimed that before the incident, Riley threatened Keeter's owner, both in person and by phone, that he would shoot down any crop-duster that flew over his hunting ranch.

In August 2010, officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife, seeking evidence of illegal hunting, executed a search warrant at the FLR and discovered a disc that contained video footage of Riley firing approximately 23 shots at another Keeter aircraft in July 2007 that was spraying the same field.  

The case is being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.