After an argument with his girlfriend, Hughes son, 24-year-old John Joseph Hughes kills himself by driving on the wrong side of the 408 highway in Orlando, with his lights off, killing 66-year-old Charles Penrose. The resulting fire is so intense Hughes has to be identified using dental records. The driver of another vehicle was unhurt. Police:
Well we know now based on contact we received from his girlfriend that this is a suicide. That he intentionally drove the wrong way on the 408 colliding with the other vehicle, killing the other man. We just know there was some type of argument and that he chose this method to kill himself and unfortunately take an innocent life with him.
Something changed in me. He paid far too high a price for an unimportant issue. But if you’re willing to take a risk, the ultimate risk, to draw attention to something that does have significance, it’s worth doing.
Hughes describes his two-year plan to land on the capitol lawn to the Tampa Bay Times to deliver letters to Congress protesting the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court decided campaign contributions were a form of political speech.
We’re heading full-throttle toward a breakdown. There’s no question that we need government, but we don’t have to accept that it’s a corrupt government that sells out to the highest bidder. We can have a government that works for the people, that answers to the people, that can only take money from the people in small amounts.
He says he has no intention of hurting anybody and that he doesn’t want to be hurt either.
No sane person would do what I’m doing. I don’t believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 61-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle. I don’t have any defense, okay, but I don’t believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout…Somebody will realize that they’ve got to modify the playbook and they’ll probably scramble a helicopter. They’ll scramble a Blackhawk from Quantico, and there’s a 50-50 chance that a Blackhawk at full throttle will overfly me and realize that he’s missed and he’ll have to come back. Again, I’m going to fly low and slow and these guys are going to have a full head of adrenaline. Eventually, I’m hoping the Blackhawk will catch up with me about the time that the authorities realize that I’m not a threat and knocking me down is not a politically savvy move, and I anticipate having an escort all the way in. I’m hoping for a friendly escort.
After driving to Washington Hughes makes the short flight to Washington, where he lands his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn. He flies with 535 two-page letters, one for each member of Congress.
I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson’s description of rights in the Declaration of Independence. As a member of Congress, you have three options. 1. You may pretend corruption does not exist. 2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform. 3. You may actively participate in real reform.
Capitol Police arrest him, and the Capitol Police bomb squad investigate the scene. Police:
The U.S. Capitol Police continues to investigate with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area.
Homeland Security Chief says:
Had it gotten any closer to the speaker’s balcony they have long guns to take it down, but it didn’t. It landed right in front.
Hughes appears in federal court this afternoon, and is charged with one count of knowingly operating an aircraft not properly registered and one count of violating national air defense space. He wears his U.S. Postal uniform. He also has to wear court earphones so he can hear. In total, he faces four years in prison, plus fines. The judge releases him on his own recognizance with a series of conditions: He must stay away from any type of aircraft, he must report to pretrial services in Tampa once a week and he must be confined to his home in Florida. His next appearance is scheduled for May 8.
Hughes is indicted by a federal grand jury on six charges, including three violations of national defense airspace, operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier, operating as an airman without certification and violation registration requirements. The latter two charges are felonies. He faces up to 9 ½ years in prison.