BCSO Drone Unit searches for dog belonging to hit-and-run victim


LELAND, NC (WWAY) — The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office has eyes in the sky. The sheriff’s drone unit handles everything from surveying storm damage to hunting down suspects on the run.

On Wednesday, the unit helped find Jacob Tyler Cortes, a man wanted for felony assault on an individual with disability among other charges.

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“Sometimes it can be conducting a grid search. Sometimes it’s more like an area or radius type search,” said drone pilot Capt. Mose Highsmith.

Highsmith is one of three commercially certified drone pilots with the unit. He says the drone is used for much more than just locating criminals.

“Storm assessments, searching for missing persons, overwatch activities for different sheriff’s office functions,” Highsmith said.

The unit is funded as part of the sheriff’s office’s annual budget. Highsmith says as certified drone pilots, they have to abide by certain rules.

“The FAA requires us to check things like weather, humidity, wind speed, make sure that we’re not flying over people who aren’t involved in the operation,” Highsmith said.

Another thing they have to watch out for is birds of prey like hawks and eagles.

“They think it’s a smaller bird, so we just have to be aware and try to, as much as we can, stay out of their way,” he said.

The drone itself is fitted with three cameras at different angles, and is controlled by a remote control with a screen attached.

On Thursday, the team used the drone to search for a pit bull-dalmatian mix. It belonged to a 71-year-old woman killed in a hit-and-run crash on Highway 17 near Leland early Wednesday morning.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have an success for now, but hopefully there will be other sightings and we can come back and try to get here in a timely manner,” Highsmith said.

Investigators are still searching for the driver, and believe he or she was driving a 2014-2015 Chevrolet Camaro. It will have front end damage.

Highsmith says sometimes they can use a thermal camera to help find a person or animal, but on a hot day like Thursday, body temperature blends in with the surroundings.