Wedding guests injured by a drone are suing a Sandown groom, who says he wasn’t flying the drone at the time of the crash.
Barry Billcliff, 38, married his wife Nichole at Searles Castle in Windham Aug. 8. Near the end of the reception, a drone Billcliff had brought to the wedding crashed into Kneena Ellis of Seabrook and Kelly Eaton of Peabody causing injury to both women.
Ellis and Eaton, both former co-workers of Nichole’s, filed a lawsuit against Billcliff and Searles Castle in Rockingam Superior Court Dec. 1, claiming they suffered permanent physical and emotional injury as a result of the crash. The women are seeking “jury trial and judgment” against both defendants in the amount of “damages, together with interest, costs and attorneys fees.”
Billcliff said recently another wedding guest came to him to say that he had been the one flying the drone after seeing media coverage of the lawsuit. Billcliff declined to identify him.
“He came to me, said, ‘You should have just asked, I would have told you I was flying it,’” Billcliff said. “He just told me to tell any reporter...it was a complete and utter accident and there was no malicious intent.”
At the reception, Billcliff said he and three others had been flying the drone throughout the day. Near the end of the night, Billcliff said he put the drone on a table in order to dance for an “impromptu performance and special song” with Nichole.
“I was halfway to the stage when I heard the whistling,” he said. “The drone was just right above us... I didn’t think it would be an issue.”
Shortly thereafter, he said, “there was a commotion and they said the drone came down and hit Kneena Ellis,” Billcliff said. “That’s when Kelly (Eaton) started saying she was going to have a lawsuit, she was going to own this place.”
Billcliff said paramedics came to care for the Ellis, bringing the night to an abrupt end.
Ellis, who Billcliff described as “an absolute sweetheart,” alleges in the lawsuit she suffered a laceration that required more than 20 stitches to close and a concussion.
Eaton alleges she suffered fractured orbital bones, a fractured nose and a concussion.
Billcliff expressed doubt about the extent of Eaton’s injuries, whom he said “didn’t even have a red mark.” He said he and his lawyer “have pictures and videos of them like days after the event going out and drinking” and, in Eaton’s case, “right back to work.” He added that Ellis is a stay-at-home mom.
Billcliff said that he’s heard from witnesses that Kelly may have grabbed the drone out of the air.
“I didn’t see how the whole thing went down, so I’m just going off what I’m being told,” he said.
Kevin J. McCullough, the lawyer representing Ellis and Eaton, said Billcliff has provided “a few different versions of that (story) to different news outlets.”
“The latest version is that one of the injured parties grabbed the drone out of the air,” McCullough said. “I don’t think that’s accurate, but even if all of that was true, it would not eliminate liability or accountability of his part.
“He’s also admitted that it’s his drone, that he brought the drone to the facility, that he was flying the drone in an enclosed area....” McCullough said.
Scott Robb II, vice president of Searles Castle, said he never gave Billcliff permission to fly the drone, according to the Associated Press. But Billcliff says no member of the event staff asked him to stop flying the device at any time.
“Throughout the entire day, no one ever told us to put it away. In fact, people from Searles showed me where to plug it in (to recharge),” Billcliff said.
The lawsuit also alleges Robb saw Billcliff flying the drone at the wedding and did nothing to prevent or stop him.
Billcliff expressed frustration with Eaton but harbored no hard feelings toward Ellis.
“She (Ellis) says she was just trying to take the proper channels and just wants to do things the right way,” he said.
Billcliff said that in addition to his own lawyer, the man piloting the drone at the time of the crash has hired a lawyer as well. Billcliff said as on Thursday he had not yet received paperwork about the lawsuit from the court, but had instead learned about it from the media.
“I’m pretty sure that once we get the lawyer all the paperwork and the photos that we found...I don’t know if they’re going to continue it,” Billcliff said. “There’s kind of no reason to. The whole thing seems kind of frivolous.”
“The only one who was really damaged and irreparably hurt was Nichole,” he added. “She feels extremely betrayed because they were her guests.”