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Drones being used in Lake County to help police and fire departments county wide

Posted at 6:51 PM, Feb 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-26 18:51:55-05

An eye in the sky is focused on a heavily wooded area of Willoughby, guiding police toward a suspect.

The drone helping officers on the ground is one of five that are part of the relatively new Lake County Public Safety Unmanned Aircraft System. The drones can be pressed into service in just minutes for police and fire departments across the county. 

The drones have multiple uses, according to Det. Lt. Jim Schultz.

"Crash scenes, swat scenes, crime scenes, tracking suspects, fire scenes," said Schultz.

Just days ago for the first time, the Willoughby Police Department put the drone up in hopes of tracking down 45-year-old Kevin Weizer. Schultz said two women were driving home when they saw Weizer, who they knew. 

"They stopped let him in the car, and for some unknown reason he started beating on them with a pop can," said Schultz.

Police were called to the Wood Road area, and Weizer took off into nearby woods. Willoughby Police K9 was called in to help on the ground - the drone in the air. The command center was feeding information about Weizer's location to the team ground.

"It was instrumental having an eye in the sky, helping tell us where he was, " said Willoughby Police Officer Brandon Zinner. 

Police caught Weizer, who faces several charges, including felonious assault. He is in the Lake County jail. 

Willoughby Fire Department Captain Scott Mlakar said fire departments are also using the drone in many situations, including hazmat situations, fires and water rescues.

"We can use it to deliver life vests, the aircraft will carry payloads that we can drop to somebody," said Mlakar.

Mlakar said that the Federal Aviation Administration requires UAS pilots to go through training, like what pilots of a full-sized manned aircraft go through, to be able to operate them in a capacity of public safety. 

Lake County Public Safety Unmanned Aircraft System has five drones, 12 pilots plus cameras and payload accessories. The $15,000 cost was paid for by fire department grants and with drug seizure money from the Lake County Narcotics Agency.