Hazel and the drone

Hazel, a 3-year-old yellow lab, sniffs a drone -- wrapped in camouflage tape -- that she found Monday in a wooded area not far from DRM Productions, 286 Piper Road. (Submitted photo)

MANSFIELD -- Those seeking to fly drones into Mansfield's state prisons should be aware.

Hazel is on the case.

The 3-year-old yellow lab, owned by Jay and Ashley Miller, on Monday found an apparently crashed, discarded Phantom DJI drone in a wooded area near DRM Productions, a business they own along Piper Road.

Suspiciously, the business is not far from the Mansfield Correctional Institution and the Richland Correctional Institution. More suspiciously, the drone was found wrapped in camouflage tape and the lights were sealed.

It's not uncommon for drones to be used to convey drugs into prisons. In 2015, a drone was used to drop a package of drugs into the MANCI prison yard while inmates were outside, sparking a fight.

That package reportedly contained almost a quarter of an ounce of heroin, more than two ounces of marijuana and more than five ounces of tobacco, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

In 2020, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, responsible for policing the state's prisons, said a Cleveland man was caught using a drone while trying to smuggle contraband into MANCI. The package contained marijuana, cigarettes and cell phones he allegedly intended to drop into the prison yard.

Hazel and Ashley were on a walk Monday around the edge of the DRM property when the dog pulled her into the woods. She looked down a few feet into the brushy area and saw the drone.

Yellow labs are more commonly known for bird hunting and flushing. Jay Miller, a self-professed nerd, said locating birds on the wing is not Hazel's strength.

"Bird dogs find pheasants. Nerd dogs find drones," he said with a laugh, adding he didn't know how long the drone had been there.

Miller said security cameras at the business frequently show unknown visitors in their parking lot after normal business hours, sometimes operating drones from the site.

He said DRM recently upgraded its protective efforts with Schmidt Security.

"We have employees coming in at all hours, really, and the last thing we want to do is encounter someone (doing something illegal), in our parking lot," Miller said.

Miller contacted the OSHP, which sent a detective to collect the drone on Monday for analysis. He said he didn't find any drugs or other contraband on the drone, but handled it with care.

 "I told (the detective) that the drone we found is a $1,500 drone. He said they have seen drones worth $15,000 to $20,000 being used (to convey drugs)," he said.

OSHP Det. Brian Butler referred questions to the patrol's public information office in Columbus. A message was left seeking information about the next steps in the investigation.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"