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Friends: Man no threat to Obama

Photo by Max Henkell

Photo by Max Henkell

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- An Ohio man who authorities say was carrying a gun and driving a car loaded with law enforcement equipment when he said he wanted to see the president is a ''public-service-minded'' ham-radio, weather and police buff, acquaintances said Monday.

Joseph Sean McVey, who was spotted by police in an Asheville Regional Airport parking lot Sunday just after Air Force One departed, had a note in his car with formulas used for firing a rifle with a scope, authorities said.

McVey did not have a rifle with him, but the arrest was merited to ensure McVey was not a threat, said Jeff Augram, the airport's public safety chief. Knowing McVey's interests as a radio buff, weather enthusiast and sheriff's volunteer helped explain many of the items found in his car, Augram said.

''In a post-9/11 culture, we have to take a pro-active posture,'' Augram said.

Acquaintances from his hometown of Coshocton, Ohio, suggested the whole episode may just be a misunderstanding involving a sometimes overly enthusiastic 23-year-old.

McVey, whose mother lives in Asheville, was being held under a $100,000 secured bond for the misdemeanor charge of going armed in terror of the public. If he posts bail, McVey would be released. The investigation was continuing, but Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said he did not believe there was a federal agency that wanted him held.

On Monday, he wore a white jail jumpsuit, appeared calm and spoke in a steady voice for a court hearing via video conference. McVey faces up to 120 days in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor, District Judge Patricia Young said. She told him an attorney had agreed to represent him.

''I'd like to take advantage of the gentleman that you were notifying me about,'' he responded.

Randy Fisher, president of the Coshocton County Amateur Radio Association, said that he was shocked to hear of the arrest. He said McVey had come to several of the group's monthly meetings over the last two years and that he last talked to McVey about a week ago via radio. He said he always found McVey friendly and interesting.

''I was impressed that he was a public-service-minded type of individual. He really enjoyed using his ham radio for emergency services and that sort of thing,'' Fisher said.

For about two years, McVey has been a member of a volunteer organization that assists the sheriff's department with traffic control at emergency scenes, said Tim Wise, president of Coshocton County Radio Emergency Association Citizen Team.

Wise said he was inclined to believe McVey's arrest resulted from a misunderstanding. He was unaware McVey had a gun, but said he did not believe McVey would ever want to harm the president.

At about 2 p.m. Sunday, airport police saw McVey get out of a car and saw that he had a sidearm, airport police Capt. Kevan Smith said. He was using a handheld scanner and radio to monitor local agencies and told an officer in the Asheville airport parking lot that he wanted to see the president, Smith said.