CHICAGO — A Chicago woman is in hot water after causing the U.S. Coast Guard to rack up more than $13,000 in costs after she phoned in a fake distress call from a beach in Rogers Park.
Leona Chewning, 24, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to the charge of communicating a false distress message, according to the U.S. attorney.
According to her plea agreement, she first told police about a person in distress in Lake Michigan around 9:10 p.m. Feb. 4, 2013. The dispatcher transferred her to the Coast Guard at Calumet Harbor, to whom she provided a description of the person she claimed fell into the lake, according to a statement issued Thursday by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Coast Guard, along with state and federal law enforcement, responded to the call. A search-and-rescue operation, which included a vehicle from Wilmette Harbor Station and a helicopter from Traverse City, Mich., was initiated by the Coast Guard. And a diver with the Chicago Fire Department also entered the water in search of the person, the department said.
“Hoax rescue calls are costly and risky for the responding agencies and personnel who put their own lives on the line in an effort to save others. We will prosecute those who needlessly make false rescue reports and hold them accountable for their crime,” said Zachary T. Fardon, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
The hoax cost the Coast Guard $13,613, according to the Justice Department.
“False distress calls like this one tie up valuable assets and put our crews at risk since we
take every distress call seriously. They impede the ability of first responders like the Coast Guard and our partners to respond to real distress where lives may be on the line. We want to make sure people know the dangers and consequences of knowingly making a hoax call,” said Capt. Nicholas Bartolotta, chief of response for the 9th Coast Guard District.
The plea agreement did not indicate the woman's motive in making the call.
Chewning is free while awaiting a sentencing hearing on April 22. She faces a maximum of six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a civil penalty of $5,000 and mandatory restitution of $13,613, the department said.
But her plea agreement "anticipates" a sentence of four to 10 months in jail, officials said.
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