Police nab man allegedly on runway

November 19, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport

A man was arrested late Tuesday night after authorities said he drove a car onto the runway at the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport in Penn Township.

The incident, which took place around 11 p.m., prompted officials to temporarily halt all aviation traffic at the airport. No one was injured, and there was no damage to the airport.

“It was kind of an odd thing,” airport manager Ike Kelly admitted Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear why Brian M. Powers, 36, of Butler Township allegedly did what he did, but he claimed it was an accident.

“He said he got lost looking for a restaurant,” Middlesex Township police officer Michael Hartman said Wednesday. “He said he was meeting friends at the restaurant.”

District Judge Bill O'Donnell arraigned Powers on a felony charge of risking a catastrophe, a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass and summary charges of disorderly conduct and trespass by vehicle. He was released on $5,000 unsecured bail.

O'Donnell also barred him from the airport as a bail condition.

Middlesex Township police, which has a mutual-aid agreement with neighboring Penn Township police, were initially called around 10 p.m. Tuesday for a report of a suspicious person at the airport on West Airport Road.

The suspect, later identified as Powers, was reportedly talking to staff with LifeFlight, which is based at the airport. He was asking about access to the airport.

Hartman got there and found the defendant and his vehicle, a 2002 Subaru Imprezza.

“I told Powers that the airport is very serious about people trying to gain access,” Hartman said in his affidavit filed with the criminal complaint. “I also told him that he should leave the area.”

There are a number of signs posted at the airport warning that vehicles are not permitted beyond a certain point.

Hartman said he watched Powers drive out of the airport, and then cleared the call. But at 11:01 p.m., Hartman was dispatched again to the airport — this time for a report of a vehicle on the asphalt-paved runway.

The officer entered the facility and reported seeing a red Subaru “driving away from me on the runway.” He subsequently performed an unusual traffic stop.

Kelly said there are six gates to the runway, but he did not know which one the defendant accessed. Three of the gates can be opened by remote transmitter and the others are opened manually.

He said a LifeFlight pilot saw the car on the runway and immediately alerted Pittsburgh International Airport, which operates the air traffic radar system used to control flights in and out of the Butler County airport.

“The pilot called Pittsburgh approach control,” Kelly said, “just to let them know that we had a vehicle on the runway, so they can hold all arriving flights coming in here.”

The incident, airport officials said, was over quickly. Powers was taken away in a police cruiser and his car was towed.

“This happens very infrequently,” Kelly said. “Normally, if somebody does it, they drive through the fence, strangely enough, off Airport Road. But again, it's rare.”

Powers' preliminary hearing is Dec. 9. Online court records did not indicate if he has an attorney, and he could not be reached for comment.

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Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Grew up in upstate New York. Earned my Journalism degree in 1983 from the University of Texas at Austin. Worked for two newspapers in Fayette County (Pa.) before starting at the Butler Eagle in 1998.