Tur­key drop clears FAA; rocker aghast

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - BILL BOW­DEN

Heavy-me­tal rocker and an­i­mal-wel­fare ac­tivist Tommy Lee has called for an end to the chuck­wagon races in Cal­gary, Al­berta, and the run­ning of the bulls in Pam­plona, Spain.

Now he’s try­ing to stop the Yel­lville tur­key drop.

Lee sent a let­ter late Tues­day to Yel­lville Mayor Shawn Lane about the an­nual Tur­key Trot fes­ti­val, at which live tur­keys are tossed from a plane over nearby Crooked Creek in a 50-year rit­ual re­ferred to as the tur­key drop.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion says the prac­tice doesn’t vi­o­late any of its reg­u­la­tions, and a lo­cal pros­e­cu­tor doesn’t plan to pur­sue an­i­mal-cru­elty charges

“If those at­tend­ing the Tur­key Trot want blood and guts, they can hit the Sun Val­ley Cinema af­ter­ward and see the new­est slasher movie.” ROCKER TOMMY LEE, in a let­ter to Yel­lville Mayor Shawn Lane

against the pi­lot.

Lee, a drum­mer, is co-founder of the band Mot­ley Crue, which has sold more than 100 mil­lion records.

“I’ve met some wild Arkansans over the years while tour­ing there with Mot­ley Crue, and I thought I’d heard it all,” wrote Lee.

“But I just heard from my friends at

PETA about a twisted

Ozark rit­ual that even the most de­ranged head­banger couldn’t in­vent: drop­ping live tur­keys from a plane as the ‘en­ter­tain­ment’ at the ‘fam­ily-friendly’ Tur­key Trot fes­ti­val. I’m writ­ing to add my voice to the thou­sands of oth­ers ask­ing you to help deep-six this sick stunt.

“Arkansas of­fers plenty of cool out­door gath­er­ings that don’t rely on sadism, from the Lights of the Ozarks [in Fayet­teville] and the Moun­tain View Bluegrass Fes­ti­val to my fa­vorite: Wild Women Wed­nes­day at Pin­na­cle Moun­tain State Park,” wrote Lee. “If those at­tend­ing the Tur­key Trot want blood and guts, they can hit the Sun Val­ley Cinema af­ter­ward and see the new­est slasher movie.”

Ac­cord­ing to arkansasstateparks.com, Wild Women Wed­nes­day is “a ladies hike on one of Pin­na­cle Moun­tain’s gor­geous trails.”

Thea Hoeft, a sea­sonal front desk clerk at Pin­na­cle Moun­tain State Park, 17 miles north­west of Lit­tle Rock, said men can go on the Wild Women Wed­nes­day hikes, but they usu­ally don’t. Hoeft said she hadn’t heard about Lee hik­ing with the ladies.

Yel­lville’s Mayor Lane couldn’t be reached for com­ment Tues­day.

Rick Canny, Lee’s man­ager, con­firmed the au­then­tic­ity of the let­ter.

“It is def­i­nitely not fake news,” said Canny. “Tommy has been in­volved with PETA for a long time. He speaks up when he thinks it’s some­thing he should lend his voice to.”

Canny said Lee was in the record­ing stu­dio Tues­day and un­avail­able for com­ment.

Canny said he re­ceived a copy of the let­ter from Lee.

An­other copy of the let­ter was sent to the Yel­lville Area Cham­ber of Com­merce. A copy was also fur­nished to the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette by a spokesman for Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals.

“As a long­time fan of the Ozarks, I re­spect­fully ask you and the Cham­ber of Com­merce to use your power to drop the tur­key drop,” Lee wrote in the let­ter’s last sen­tence.

City, cham­ber and Mar­ion County of­fi­cials have said that, while they sup­port the Tur­key Trot fes­ti­val, they have no in­volve­ment in the drop­ping of live tur­keys from air­planes. That has been done, his­tor­i­cally, by “Phan­tom Pi­lots.”

The Phan­tom Pi­lot of this year’s fes­ti­val ap­par­ently didn’t vi­o­late any FAA rules, said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the agency.

Live tur­keys were dropped from a plane — one per flyby — as it made sev­eral trips over the fes­ti­val on Oct. 14, but the tur­keys were re­leased over Crooked Creek and ad­ja­cent fields, not over peo­ple or build­ings.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that the flights vi­o­lated no reg­u­la­tions be­cause the birds were dropped away from the crowds at the fes­ti­val,” Lunsford said in an email.

Sev­eral tur­keys were dropped Oct. 14 from a 1966 Piper PA-28-140 that is reg­is­tered to Aldino Rai­mondi of Yel­lville, ac­cord­ing to FAA records. Rai­mondi didn’t re­turn tele­phone mes­sages left for him Tues­day.

The FAA in­ves­ti­gated Dana Woods and his flight path in 2015 and de­ter­mined that it vi­o­lated no agency reg­u­la­tions. Woods is a phar­ma­cist and Moun­tain View al­der­man who was the Phan­tom Pi­lot for about 15 years, in­clud­ing 2016.

Lunsford said Rai­mondi ap­par­ently fol­lowed the same flight path as Woods. The FAA re­lied on tes­ti­mony from wit­nesses be­cause it didn’t have agents at this year’s fes­ti­val.

The agency has no ju­ris­dic­tion over an­i­mal-cru­elty com­plaints, said Lunsford.

“FAA reg­u­la­tions don’t specif­i­cally deal with drop­ping live an­i­mals out of air­planes, so we have no au­thor­ity to pro­hibit the prac­tice,” Lunsford said. “This does not mean we en­dorse it.”

A Bruno woman filed an­i­mal-cru­elty com­plaints with the Mar­ion County sher­iff’s of­fice re­gard­ing the tur­key drops in 2016 and 2017.

Rose Hil­liard al­leged an­i­mal cru­elty and aban­don­ment un­der Arkansas Code 5-62-103. It’s usu­ally a mis­de­meanor pun­ish­able by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Upon a fourth con­vic­tion within five years, cru­elty to an­i­mals be­comes a felony in Arkansas, and the guilty party is or­dered to un­dergo a psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion.

Mar­ion County Sher­iff Clin­ton Evans said he was in­formed Tues­day by Deputy Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Ken­ford Carter of Arkansas’ 14th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit that he wouldn’t pur­sue charges in ei­ther case, for 2016 or 2017.

“The pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice will not be pros­e­cut­ing them,” said Evans.

He said Carter didn’t elab­o­rate. Carter couldn’t be reached for com­ment Tues­day.

For more than 50 years, an air­plane has flown by the fes­ti­val and dropped live tur­keys. Peo­ple chase the tur­keys and of­ten re­turn with them to the fes­ti­val on the down­town Yel­lville square so they can show them off.

While the tur­keys usu­ally spread their wings and glide to a land­ing, some are ap­par­ently con­fused and try to flap their wings. In­stead of float­ing, they fall. Out of a dozen tur­keys that were dropped dur­ing the 2016 fes­ti­val, two re­port­edly died on im­pact.

Wild tur­keys can fly at speeds up to 55 mph, but they usu­ally fly from tree­top to tree­top, at an al­ti­tude of less than 100 feet.

Dur­ing the tur­key drop, the air­plane is at an al­ti­tude of at least 500 feet.

Yvonne Vizzier Thax­ton, a pro­fes­sor of poul­try sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, said that al­ti­tude would be enough to cause stress to the birds. She called the tur­key drop a “hor­rific act of abuse.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

A live tur­key falls from a plane over a field Oct. 14 dur­ing Yel­lville’s Tur­key Trot fes­ti­val. De­spite out­cry from an­i­mal-wel­fare ac­tivists, fed­eral of­fi­cials say such flights vi­o­late no reg­u­la­tions.


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