INDEPENDENCE — The Polk County District Attorney’s Office is not pressing charges against a pilot who downed a power line at Riverview Park in Independence on July 21, but the pilot is facing charges in Linn County.
“After reviewing the reports, we have determined there is not sufficient evidence to initiate a prosecution at this time,” said Aaron Felton, Polk County DA, in an Aug. 20 email to the Itemizer.
Erik von Gottsegen, 65, of Sweet Home, was arraigned in Linn County Court on Sept. 4 for prohibited operation of aircraft and driving under the influence of intoxicants, according to court documents.
The prohibited operation of aircraft charge alleges that von Gottsegen “on or about July 21, 2019 … did unlawfully operate an aircraft in the air while under the influence of controlled substances and did operate said aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”
The DUII charge alleges he “did unlawfully drive a vehicle upon a public highway or premises open to the public while under the influence of intoxicants, to-wit: controlled substances.”
The incident was investigated separately by the Lebanon police and Independence police departments.
Von Gottsegen was charged with DUII on July 21 at Lebanon Airport.
The Itemizer requested copies of the reports from LPD and IDP. LPD has not yet filled the request because the Linn County district attorney and the Federal Aviation Administration have not released it, according to LPD records staff.
IPD released its report on Friday.
IPD officer Richard Gonzalez responded to a call about wires down by Riverview Park at about 3:52 p.m. on July 21, according to the IPD police report.
A witness told Gonzalez the plane was last seen flying northbound. At 4:10 p.m., Gonzalez went to the Independence Airport where he spoke with another witness, who said the plane left the airport about 10 minutes before the officer arrived.
According to the report, the witness said the pilot shut the engine off for 5 to 10 minutes and walked around the plane before taking off.
The witness had seen the pilot before, and told Gonzalez that he believed the pilot was from the Lebanon area and might be headed to that airport.
Gonzalez asked dispatchers to contact LPD in case the plane headed to the airport. Dispatchers also contacted the Federal Aviation Administration.
At about 4:55 p.m., Gonzalez received a call from LPD officer Andrew Borges, who said he was possibly with the pilot of the plane involved in the incident at Riverview Park.
The pilot was identified as Erik von Gottsegen and arrested by LPD for flying his aircraft under the influence of intoxicants. He was cited and released.
Borges later told Gonzalez that he took photos of the red and white experimental bi-plane and the damage to it.
Gonzalez interviewed von Gottsegen on Aug. 12 at the office of his attorney, Josh Hunking, in Albany.
A question about the length of time between the incident and the interview was not answered by press time.
In the Aug. 12 interview, von Gottsegen told Gonzalez that he left the Lebanon Airport at about 3:30 p.m. to visit a friend in Independence.
He said “he began to feel his engine lose power about four miles before arriving to Independence,” according to the report.
Von Gottsegen said his plane began to lose altitude and “he began to head toward the Willamette River, as he did not want to land in the fields.”
He said when he passed over the Independence River Road Bridge, the planed lowered again.
According to the report, von Gottsegen “said the plane came down, ‘and the next thing I know, I guess I either hit a tree or a wire.’”
He told the officer that the plane shook but that he thought it could have been the atmosphere causing it to move.
Von Gottsegen said he landed at Independence Airport and “noticed minimal damage” to the front of the wheel frame. Based on that, he said he didn’t think he needed to report the incident to the FAA.
He said if he had known he’d hit a power line, he would have stayed at the Independence Airport, according to the report.
Von Gottsegen said he did not have his cellphone with him, and the airport was closed, according to the report.
A cost estimate from Pacific Power to repair the power pole was included in IPD’s report: $9,226.88.
Von Gottsegen’s next Linn County Court date is scheduled for Sept. 23.