Man Arrested for Using Drone to Drop Dye in New Jersey Pools

Sandra Woolstion decided enough was enough.

It was Friday, Sept. 1, the kickoff to Labor Day weekend, and when she walked out in the morning to open the pool at the Quality Inn in Absecon, N.J., it was covered in “blue stuff” that was turning the water green.

At this point in the summer, Ms. Woolstion, the general manager, knew the drill. The staff at the motel just outside Atlantic City drained the pool, washed it down and filled it back up. Three hours later, people were swimming.

But when Ms. Woolstion returned hours later to drop off supplies for the next morning’s breakfast service, the pool turned neon yellow before her eyes. She checked the security cameras: Nobody had driven by, there were no cars in sight and no one had walked past the pool or thrown something in.

She called Jason Kiamos, a detective at the Galloway Township Police Department, a now-regular occurrence.

“It has to be a drone,” she told him.

“You might be on to something,” she said he replied.

That day, the Galloway police, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, the New Jersey State Police and the Absecon Police Department, tracked a drone as it flew from the Quality Inn to Comfort Solutions Heating and Cooling, a nearby business.

There, they arrested the owner, Patrick J. Spina IV, 45, who has since been charged with multiple counts of criminal mischief and harassment, Detective Kiamos said.

He said Mr. Spina operated the unmanned aircraft via remote control and used it to drop packets of Sea Dye into neighborhood pools. Sea Dye, a chemical used in water rescues, turns water colors ranging from bright yellow to fluorescent green.

As Mr. Spina was taken into custody, Detective Kiamos pulled out his phone.

“Sandra, we made the arrest,” he texted her.

The arrest put an end to a mysterious summer of irritation for the residents of the city of Absecon and neighboring Galloway Township. On Aug. 13, an Absecon homeowner called the police to report that a drone had hovered over their pool and dropped a substance that turned the water “an alarming shade of green.

Detective Kiamos said similar reports soon emerged from around the area. He described the investigation as ongoing, and said he could not provide a timeline of the pool attacks or say how many pools had been affected.

Asked about a motive, he said all indications were that Mr. Spina had been “pranking people.” Attempts to reach Mr. Spina on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Petty Officer First Class Jonathan Lally, a spokesman for the United States Coast Guard, said that people in need of rescue deploy Sea Dye as a distress signal, similar to a flare, in hopes of guiding emergency workers to their location.

As an example, Petty Officer Lally pointed to a scene in the movie “Top Gun,” when the pilots Maverick and Goose crash into the water and a circle of bright green dye fills the sea around them.

But for Ms. Woolstion, who has worked as a general manager on White Horse Pike, a strip of hotels on the road to Atlantic City, for more than 18 years, the chemical and the havoc it wreaked led to the most frustrating summer of her life.

The pool first turned green on June 22, she said. At first, it happened every other week, and then it started happening more frequently.

Last week, she said, the pool turned green on consecutive days, Thursday and Friday.

“He was getting too happy with doing it,” Ms. Woolstion said.

Every time the pool was hit, Ms. Woolstion had to drain it. Wash down the sides. Fill it back up. Rinse and repeat.

Right before the attacks began, Ms. Woolstion had the pool redone with a ceramic finish, which cost more than $10,000, she said.

Draining and refilling it multiple times per week, as well as the losses incurred from stays canceled because of pool closures, cost close to $20,000 over the course of the summer, she estimated. She also had to pay employees overtime to sit outside and monitor the pool.

And now, with her newly redone pool marred by yellow splotches where each packet dropped, Ms. Woolstion will need to pay to refinish the pool again.

“It was just more than we bargained for,” Ms. Woolstion said. “I was like, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore. This is crazy. This is costing me too much.’”

Then, Detective Kiamos texted her, and her nightmarish summer was finally over.

“I said, ‘thank you, God,’” she said. “I can breathe now.”

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