|SUSPECT IN CUSTODY
Joseph McVey was being held in lieu of a $100,000 secured bond. If he posts bail, he would be released.
Friends suggest armed man in N.C. wasn’t a threat to Obama
Suspect is called law enforcement enthusiast
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — An Ohio man who authorities say was carrying a gun and driving a car loaded with law enforcement equipment when he said he wanted to see the president is a “public service-minded’’ ham radio and police buff, acquaintances said yesterday.
Joseph Sean McVey, who was spotted by police in an Asheville Regional Airport parking lot Sunday just after Air Force One departed, had a note in his car with formulas used for firing a rifle with a scope, authorities said.
Acquaintances from his hometown of Coshocton, Ohio, suggested that the episode may just be a misunderstanding involving a 23-year-old who is a law enforcement enthusiast.
McVey, whose mother lives in Asheville, was being held in lieu of a $100,000 secured bond for the misdemeanor charge of going armed to the terror of the public. If he posts bail, McVey would be released.
The investigation was continuing, but Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said he did not believe federal officials wanted McVey held.
Yesterday, wearing a white jail jumpsuit, he appeared calm and spoke in a steady voice for a court hearing via a video conference. McVey faces up to 120 days in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor, District Judge Patricia Young said. She told him an attorney had agreed to represent him.
“I’d like to take advantage of the gentleman that you were notifying me about,’’ he responded.
Randy Fisher, president of the Coshocton County Amateur Radio Association, said he was shocked to hear of the arrest. He said McVey had come to several of the group’s monthly meetings over the last two years and that he last talked to McVey about a week ago via radio. He said he always found McVey friendly and interesting.
“I was impressed that he was a public service-minded type of individual. He really enjoyed using his ham radio for emergency services and that sort of thing,’’ Fisher said.
For about two years, McVey has been a member of a volunteer organization that assists the sheriff’s department with traffic control at emergency scenes, said Tim Wise, president of Coshocton County Radio Emergency Association Citizen Team.
Wise said he was inclined to believe that McVey’s arrest resulted from a misunderstanding. He was unaware that McVey had a gun, but said he did not believe McVey would ever want to harm the president.
Security was heightened at the Asheville airport Sunday because President Obama was leaving after a weekend vacation.
At about 2 p.m. Sunday, airport police saw McVey get out of a car and saw that he had a sidearm, airport police Captain Kevan Smith said. He was using a handheld scanner and radio to monitor local agencies and told an officer in the airport parking lot that he wanted to see the president, Smith said.
McVey was nowhere near the president’s plane and was in a rental car return lot that is open to the public, Smith said.
McVey’s car was equipped with police gear, including a siren box, a mounted digital camera, and LED law enforcement-style strobe lights in the front and rear dash, Smith said.
A note in his car’s cup holder had rifle scope formulas, which help a shooter adjust for distance from a target. Such formulas estimate how much a bullet drops after it is fired and are generally included with a scope purchased for hunting or recreation, said Greg A. Danas, a firearms expert based in Massachusetts.
Asheville airport public safety chief Jeff Augram said yesterday that McVey did not have a rifle with him. He said the arrest was needed to ensure McVey was not a threat.
McVey gave authorities an Ohio driver’s license, but a computer check failed to show that the number was valid, police said.
“Everything they found on him, with the exception of a gun, he basically had all that when he was in Coshocton,’’ said Wise. “He just basically liked to monitor police frequencies and listen to what’s going on.’’
That is common for the group’s members, though they are not authorized to have police sirens and lights or to break the speed limit on the way to emergencies, Wise said.