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SALT LAKE CITY — A woman hopes somebody saw who was flying a drone in downtown Salt Lake City that she claims hit and injured her on Friday afternoon as she walked near the Salt Palace Convention Center.
“Something hit me really hard,” Roy resident Erin Rubens said. “I felt my face and I looked down and saw it was a drone and I was bleeding all over.”
Rubens says she didn’t hear the drone approaching because she was wearing headphones and listening to a podcast while she walked along 100 South between Main Street and West Temple about 3 p.m. on her way to catch a FrontRunner commuter train.
“It was a pretty deep gash,” she said. “There was a lot of blood, I mean, dripping down my arms blood.”
In a panic, Rubens said she ran to find a public restroom to clean up the blood and examine the wound in a mirror. When she returned, the drone was nowhere to be found.
“I knew that my face broke it. I knew it was white. I knew it landed in front of me, and by the time I got back out here, it could have been 10 minutes, it was gone.” she recalled.
She called police and provided a statement about the incident. Without the actual drone, or an eyewitness description of its operator, detectives say they don’t have enough to launch an investigation.
“The drone was gone. She had left that scene,” said detective Greg Wilking with the Salt Lake Police Department. “We didn’t have any information to follow up on.”
Wilking said the “unique” situation would not likely rise to the level of a criminal case.
“These little hobby drones that we’re probably talking about, that you can fly around in your house, really aren’t being regulated,” he said.
After talking with police, Rubens went to an urgent care center to get the gash cleaned out and glued shut. Rubens said the doctor told her the injury could have been much more severe.
“She said it was really lucky that it landed where it did,” Rubens said. “It was close enough to my eye that if it would have hit my eye, I would have lost one.”
One expert, who has been building drones for 15 years for various professional uses, says downtown Salt Lake City is not the smartest place for a novice operator to fly a drone.
“It’s very possible (the drone pilot) didn’t even know an injury happened." - Jon McBride, drone expert
“They have sharp blades,” said Jon McBride with Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems in Centerville. “They’ll bite you if you’re not careful.”
In general, McBride said it’s best to operate drones in areas where there are not buildings, trees and people. In Rubens’ case, if the person flying the drone was not in the immediate area, they may not have realized that their drone hit a person.
“It’s very possible he didn’t even know an injury happened,” McBride said.
Rubens holds out hope that somebody saw who retrieved the damaged drone from the sidewalk next to the Marriott hotel on 100 South. She agrees that a city street is not the place to fly a drone and has a message for those flying drones.
“I don’t want you flying over my head. Period,” she said. “Please know how to drive your drones properly.”
Wilking encouraged drone operators to follow best practices and avoid flying near people.
“You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and operate it in a safe manner,” he said.