Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

An attack? No, just workers playing guns at the airplane corral

It was a scary few minutes for police early Thursday when reports came in of rapid, steady gunfire coming from the Boca Raton Airport.

The airport and its access road were shut down. More than two dozen deputies poured in with police dogs. The FBI, Transportation Security Administration and Federal Aviation Administration were notified.

Multiple spent shell casings were found lying on a grassy area near the main runway.

What it was, officers learned, was not an attack. Just an airport manager, an airport maintenance worker and the airport security boss getting in a little late-night target practice.

More than 100 shots were fired, officers said.

"At this time of heightened security and zero tolerance, that anyone would fire a weapon on airport grounds is bizarre," said sheriff's spokesman Paul Miller.

Arrested and charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm were Donald Currie, 42, the airport's facilities manager; James Esco, 31, an independent contractor who provided airport maintenance; and Andrew Novotak, 53, owner of the company contracted to provide security at the airport. The men, all from Boca Raton, were booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on the second-degree misdemeanor charges. Currie also was charged with drunken driving.

The Airport Authority suspended Currie and launched an internal investigation. Esco and Novotak were fired by airport operator Boca Aviation. A new company, Navarro Group Ltd., was hired to provide security.

Florida Atlantic University police reported hearing semiautomatic gunfire at 12:43 a.m., and thought it may have been coming from the campus. They eventually determined that it was coming from the nearby airport.

"We heard in excess of 100 rounds of what sounded like high-powered rifle fire," Sgt. Michael Aguado said in his report. "We could hear the sounds of multiple rounds tearing through the trees in the wooded area, and we also heard numerous rounds ricochet. Some of the ricochets sounded like they passed over our location."

FAU police requested backup from the Sheriff's Office and Boca Raton Police Department. As deputies arrived to search the airport and set up a security perimeter, the gunfire continued, reports show. A portion of Airport Road was closed while deputies searched from hangar to hanger with police dogs, Miller said.

The control tower was closed and no planes were taking off and landing at the time, he said. TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker said no planes were diverted while the airport was closed.

Boca Raton police found spent shell casings from a 9mm handgun, shotgun and revolver near a grassy knoll on the west side of the runway, the area closest to Interstate 95, reports show.

Police continued to search the perimeter and the airport grounds for the next 2{ hours. Then, at 4:13 a.m., a van driven by Currie was speeding down Airport Road and came to a sudden stop, nearly colliding with Sheriff's Office cars that had their emergency lights on, the arrest report said. Currie was arrested.

Deputies noticed an unloaded .357 Magnum revolver and an unloaded Mossberg model 88 shotgun on the rear seat behind Currie, reports show. Currie originally denied shooting the guns, and said he was called to the airport from his house, the report said. He then admitted he had been shooting with Novotak and Esco, according to the report.

Novotak and Esco were found and taken into custody. Esco tried but failed to elude police dogs on the airport grounds, Miller said.