CHICAGO – A Chicago woman was sentenced in federal court Thursday for making a false distress call nearly two years ago which led to several agencies launching a dangerous search and rescue operation in Lake Michigan off of Rogers Park Beach.
Leona Chewning, 24, was sentenced to 180 days of community confinement, three years of probation and $13,613 in restitution for knowingly and willfully causing the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help was needed, in violation of Title 14, U.S. Code, section 88(c).
Chewning pled guilty at her arraignment before U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle in federal court in Chicago in January.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Feb. 4, 2013, Chewning called Chicago 911 from Rogers Park Beach stating a person was in distress in the icy water just off a seawall. An ice rescue team from Coast Guard Station Wilmette Harbor responded by land.
A Coast Guard air crew also launched aboard a Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Traverse City, Michigan. Members of the Chicago Police and Fire departments also responded with personnel and assets.
Chicago Fire Department divers entered the water near the location where Chewning claimed a person fell in, but did not locate anyone. Chewning later admitted that at the time she made the call she knew her report was false. The case was subsequently turned over to the Coast Guard Investigative Services and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Hoax calls unnecessarily endanger first responders’ lives and could divert limited resources away from people who are actually in distress.
Intentionally deceiving the Coast Guard is a felony with a maximum penalty of six years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
Although hoax calls are a felony, the Coast Guard reminds those who believe they are in distress that they should not hesitate to call the Coast Guard for fear of prosecution if their situation changes and they are no longer in distress. In that instance, boaters should always notify the Coast Guard they are no longer in need of assistance.