Coast Guard Sector North Carolina personnel are requesting assistance from the public in identifying a suspected hoax caller who is suspected to have made seven false distress calls during the past two years in the vicinity of New Bern.
During the months of September through December of 2012-2013 and September through October of 2014, a similar male voice broadcast similar distress calls to Sector North Carolina personnel from the area surrounding the junction of the Neuse and Trent Rivers near New Bern on seven different occasions, with the most recent call on Oct. 16.
The Coast Guard issued urgent marine information broadcasts and launched response boat crews, helicopter crews or both in each instance. The combined response efforts to the calls is estimated to have cost the Coast Guard more than $150,000. That cost does not include the expense of local fire department crews or Marine Corps rescue helicopter crews who also responded as a result of the calls.
Making a false distress call to the Coast Guard is a federal felony offense with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, an $8,000 civil penalty and mandatory reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
"When the Coast Guard dispatches vessels and aircraft for false distress broadcasts, it obligates limited resources to unnecessary searches and puts additional costs on the Coast Guard and the taxpayer," said Lt. Lane Munroe, command center chief and public affairs officer at Sector North Carolina. "Above all else, it puts the lives of our personnel at risk. We are asking anyone with information about this caller to please come forward."
The Coast Guard is offering a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the individual responsible for making a false distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard.
One North Carolina resident was recently sentenced and two others were indicted on making false distress calls.
Brandon Garner and Charles Dowd Jr., both of Beaufort, were indicted on Oct. 14, by a federal grand jury for the Eastern District of North Carolina in Greenville for hoax distress calls they allegedly made to the Coast Guard in 2013. Both men are facing five years in federal prison and $18,000 in restitution.
Homer Blackburn of Atlantic Beach was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and required to pay more than $288,000 in restitution after making a hoax distress call in October 2013.
Anyone with information that can identify the hoax caller is requested to call 910-343-3880.
Audio available at: http://goo.gl/FsUAX3 and http://goo.gl/fxwaOe