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Friday, March 1, 2013

Helicopter Crewmember Injured By Laser

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

Cpl. Chris Elrod shows the injury to his left caused
by the beam from a Class IV, hand-held laser device.
The MD520N police helicopter he was aboard was
approximately 600 feet away from the source.

A member of a police helicopter crew suffered an eye injury after a hand-held laser was shined in his face. The incident, which occurred on the evening of Jan. 8, 2013, left a Prince George’s County (Md.) police officer with scar tissue in his left eye.

“As we came over a high-rise building at about 800 feet, I noticed a blue laser shining into the woods,” said Cpl. Chris Elrod, the agency’s senior tactical flight officer. “Next thing I knew, the inside of the canopy was filled with blue light.” Cpl. Todd Dolihite, the pilot, exited the area, conducted a briefing among the crew, and elected to make another pass in a manner that would allow Elrod and fellow crewmember Cpl. Edward Martin to pinpoint the source for ground units, while protecting Dolihite’s vision. “We wanted to get this individual and bring him to justice,” explained Martin.

The crew guided ground officers to the apartment of 40-year-old Jules G. Labonte of College Park, Md., who said he was demonstrating the laser to his nephew. Officers seized a Wicked Lasers-brand “Arctic” hand-held laser. (Its Class IV power is three times greater than pointers generally used in an office or classroom setting.) Thirty minutes later, Elrod experienced pain and redness in his left eye. An ophthalmologist later connected his symptoms to the laser beam, which had caused temporary scarring, even from that distance.

According Wicked Laser’s website, the energy from the device’s 1,000 mW beam can burst balloons from several feet away. It sells to the general public for $299 and comes with safety glasses.

Labonte was charged under Maryland law with three counts of assault, three counts of reckless endangerment, and one of count of misuse of a laser device. He is currently awaiting trial.

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