A federal grand jury in Lubbock returned an indictment Wednesday against a Coleman County man in connection with the Feb. 29 shooting of a crop-duster plane as the aircraft sprayed a wheat field.
The grand jury indicted James R. Cate, 68, of Talpa, on one count of destruction of an aircraft, the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Texas announced. A summons will be issued for his initial appearance in federal court at a later, undetermined date.
The indictment alleges that on Feb. 29, 2012, Cate knowingly and willfully damaged an Air Tractor AT502B aircraft, tail number N5039J, which was a civil aircraft used and employed in interstate commerce
In a March 30 article, the The Ballinger Ledger, citing unnamed sources, reported that Cate, a landowner, complained to the Texas Department of Agriculture about a plane spilling chemicals on his property.
A pilot named Steve Ballard of Winters was spraying the wheat field north of Talpa when he saw a man following his trajectory with a rifle, the newspaper reported. Four rounds were fired, and one of the bullets hit the plane's propeller, made a hole through the 500-gallon tank and exited the cockpit, narrowly missing the pilot's lets and making a hole in his pants, the newspaper reported.
A federal indictment is an accusation by a grand jury and a defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty, the U.S. Attorney's office said. If convicted, however, the offense carries a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation is being conducted by the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration. Deputy Criminal Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Williams is in charge of the prosecution.