ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — 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, weather and police buff, acquaintances said Monday.
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.
McVey did not have a rifle with him, but the arrest was merited to ensure McVey was not a threat, said Jeff Augram, the airport’s public safety chief. Knowing McVey’s interests as a radio buff, weather enthusiast and sheriff’s volunteer helped explain many of the items found in his car, Augram said.
“In a post-9/11 culture, we have to take a pro-active posture,” Augram said.
Acquaintances from his hometown of Coshocton, Ohio, suggested the whole episode may just be a misunderstanding involving a sometimes overly enthusiastic 23-year-old.
McVey, whose mother lives in Asheville, was being held under a $100,000 secured bond for the misdemeanor charge of going armed in 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 there was a federal agency that wanted him held.
On Monday, he wore a white jail jumpsuit, appeared calm and spoke in a steady voice for a court hearing via 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 that 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 McVey’s arrest resulted from a misunderstanding. He was unaware 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 Barack 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 Capt. Kevan Smith said. He was using a handheld scanner and radio to monitor local agencies and told an officer in the Asheville 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.
McVey gave authorities an Ohio driver’s license, but a computer check failed to show 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, of the volunteer emergency group. “He just basically liked to monitor police frequencies and listen to what’s going on.”
That’s 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.
“He’s kind of a go-getter, and I know we had to kind of clip his wings a couple times and tell him he needed to watch what he was doing out there and slow down a little bit,” Wise said.
McVey had a camera in his car because he liked to chase severe storms and post video online, Wise said.
Coshocton County Sheriff Timothy Rogers said Monday he had no knowledge of McVey or his family and that he was not investigating McVey.
McVey’s next court date is June 10.
He lives in a simple, one-story white house that sits off a narrow, paved township road winding through a hilly, wooded area just south of Coshocton, about halfway between Columbus and Pittsburgh. A man answering the door Monday said he had no comment.
The area is checkered with farms and is supported by nearby electric and steel plants and a paper mill. The county’s population is about 36,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
McVey turned 23 less than two weeks ago. He graduated in 2005 from River View High School in Warsaw, Ohio, where he participated in jazz, pep and concert band.
McVey’s mother, Jeri Senor, lives in Asheville and said Monday the family did not want to talk.
“We’re doing fine but we don’t want to comment right now,” she said.
Whiteman reported from Columbus, Ohio. Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Coshocton, Ohio, contributed to this report.