PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine man whose phony mayday call led to a seven-hour search by the U.S. Coast Guard was sentenced Thursday to a year in prison, and federal prosecutors said they hoped the penalty sends a message to other potential pranksters.
Owen Adair, 23, of Vinalhaven used a two-way radio in his pickup truck to issue a hoax call, saying "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" and telling the Coast Guard his brother had suffered a serious laceration on a commercial boat that was supposedly fishing off the coast of Maine, prosecutors said.
The Coast Guard spent hours in the fruitless search for the fishing vessel Lila Rose, which was actually safe at its mooring off Vinalhaven Island the entire time.
U.S. District Chief Judge Nancy Torresen sentenced Adair to a year in prison plus up to a year in a halfway house and ordered him to pay $15,000 in restitution.
"What is important to understand about this hoax call is that lives were unnecessarily put at risk while a boat crew searched seven hours offshore for a situation that did not exist," Rear Adm. Linda Fagan, Coast Guard commander in New England, said in a statement after the sentencing.
The Coast Guard says it responds to an average of 12 distress calls on a typical summer day in northern New England, and has had a spate of prank calls in recent years. Of the 450 search-and-rescue cases last year, about 25 were unresolved and suspected prank calls, Coast Guard Lt. Scott McCann says.
"We argued in court that deterrence was an important part of the sentencing equation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Chapman, who'd asked the judge to impose a two-year prison term.
Adair, who pleaded guilty in April, was unable to explain his Sept. 30 actions. At the time, he'd just left his job as sternman on a lobster boat and was battling opiate addition, according to court documents. He also had been drinking when he decided to make the fake call.
His attorney, J. Hilary Billings, said he apologized to the Coast Guard during the sentencing hearing.
According to court documents, he told the Coast Guard his brother's throat had been gashed aboard a commercial boat and his brother was bleeding and could only communicate by blinking his eyes and using hand gestures.
"Adair tricked the Coast Guard into believing that he urgently needed their help because his crewman was dying of a neck laceration. He laid it on heavily, repeatedly, and convincingly," prosecutors said.
He stayed in communication with a Coast Guard radio operator for more than a half-hour, providing information about the vessel's location that prosecutors said "amounted to gibberish."