A Grove City man is facing federal charges for pointing a laser at a Columbus Police helicopter. The air crew was on routine patrol over the sky in West Columbus.
Pre-flight checks are part of the daily routine for Columbus Police Lieutenant Greg Estep, but nothing can prepare a pilot for what happened in the air Tuesday night. Investigators say what appears as a pinhole sized beam on the ground appears a couple of feet wide in the sky. It temporarily blinds the pilot and prevents him from seeing the flight controls.
"As the wind screen is curved, what happens is the laser hits the wind screen and actually diffuses the light so that instead of a single beam of light, it actually fills the whole cockpit up with a bright light," Lt. Estep said.
He says that's what happened Tuesday night when police say, 20-year-old Denzel Christian and a friend pointed a laser from the front porch of a home at a CPD helicopter on routine patrol.
"Obviously, the first time the aircraft was lased, it alerted them to the fact that someone was lasing them," Lt. Estep said. "They started looking for where it was coming from."
They zeroed in on the house and hovered above, until ground crews arrived below and made the arrest. Christian is now charged with interfering with the operation of an aircraft with a laser. He faces up to five years in prison, and an $11,000 fine.
Lt. Estep says pointing a laser at a police helicopter is the equivalent of pointing a gun at a police cruiser. Fortunately in this case, no one was hurt.
"The reason it's taken so seriously is because the potential danger it has to not only the air crew and the helicopter or the airplanes, but the people on the ground," said Lt. Estep.
10TV looked into Denzel Christian's background and found no criminal history beyond a minor traffic violation.