Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Pasco sheriff’s pilots land, arrest man for pointing laser at them (w/video)

PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was helping deputies on the ground Tuesday night when the pilots said they were blinded by a red laser aimed at them from below.

"I got a guy lasering us pretty bad," Deputy Stephen Bowman said in a cockpit video released by the agency. He was the co-pilot and Tim Bullis was the pilot of the Bell OH-58 helicopter.

Whoever was pointing the laser wasn’t letting up, the Sheriff’s Office said, and there were no deputies on the ground free to drive over and put a stop to it.

So the pilots did it themselves.

They landed the sheriff’s helicopter in a nearby parking lot. Then Bowman jogged about five blocks and found Ryan Fluke, 27. That’s who deputies arrested on a felony charge for misuse of a laser pointer.

Bowman said Fluke was "slightly confused" and surprised to see one of the helicopter pilots at his front door.

"He had a hard time getting over that one," Bowman said.

The incident started shortly before 11 p.m. while deputies were dealing with a barricaded person in Jasmine Lake Estates. The helicopter arrived to help, but had to pull back so deputies on the ground could hear the person.

They were about 800 feet in the air when the moving red flash appeared about two miles north. They were temporarily blinded, the pilots said.

The 12-minute video showed the laser rapidly flashing on and off 10 times from a darkened home below. At one point, the video showed the person on ground, in the dark, checking their mailbox, then returning to the house and minutes later flashing the laser again.

"We actually had no available units (on the ground)," Bowman said Wednesday. "All of our resources were at the barricaded subject. We were running thin, so I took an opportunity where I knew it was safe."

They landed at the Portuguese American Cultural Association at 11205 Areca Dr, Bullis stayed with the Bell helicopter while Bowman headed for Fluke’s house at 7515 Ironbark Dr.

At first, Bowman said Fluke denied he was responsible for the red flashes. Soon more deputies arrived. Later, they said Fluke admitted that he pointed the laser at the helicopter "for fun" and "didn’t realize that a laser could travel a long distance." Fluke was released from the county jail Wednesday after posting $5,000 bail.

A small laser on the ground can pose a tremendous risk to pilots in the air. The beam can become much wider when it hits the cockpit and the glass can magnify it even more, possibly blinding and disorienting pilots.

"At night, low and making turns and you get struck by a laser, couple seconds and you can fall a couple hundred feet," Bowman said.

The 5-year veteran of the sheriff’s air unit said he’s had ground lasers pointed at him about eight different times. This is the first time he actually arrested someone for doing it.

"It shows that we’re serious," Bowman said.

Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at tyjohnson@tampabay.com. Follow @tylisajohnson.

Comments
Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

TAMPA — When her apartment complex caught fire Monday afternoon, Peaches McIntyre grabbed her four children and baby stroller and ran outside.Hours later, she looked at the smoldering building with her 5-year-old autistic son, Choice Underwood, huggi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Mother, sons lose everything in fire -- except her daughter’s urn

Mother, sons lose everything in fire -- except her daughter’s urn

ST. PETERSBURG — The day after a fire claimed most of Jahmeshia Jackson’s possessions, the 27-year-old mother returned to the house she and her sons had escaped, trying to salvage what she could. She hoped her washer and dryer still worked. But most ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tree trimmer shocked by power line in Clearwater, authorities say

Tree trimmer shocked by power line in Clearwater, authorities say

CLEARWATER — A 38-year-old tree trimmer is in critical condition after he was shocked by a power line Monday, according to Clearwater Fire & Rescue.Ernest Harlen, of Largo, was on a ladder cutting trees with a pole saw when he was shocked just before...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Father of Seminole Heights victim repairing damage after vandals hit son’s memorial

Father of Seminole Heights victim repairing damage after vandals hit son’s memorial

TAMPA — Weeks after burying his son Anthony Naiboa, one of four people gunned down over the span of 51 days in Seminole Heights, Casimar Naiboa has a new and unwanted ritual.He drives past a makeshift memorial his family made for his son, set up wher...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Bomb strapped to man explodes in New York subway; 3 hurt

Bomb strapped to man explodes in New York subway; 3 hurt

NEW YORK — A man inspired by the Islamic State group set off a crude pipe bomb strapped to his body Monday in a crowded subway corridor near Times Square, injuring the man, slightly wounding three others and sending New York commuters fleeing in terr...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Lakewood High on lockout after report of weapon on campus

Lakewood High on lockout after report of weapon on campus

Lakewood High in St. Petersburg was placed on lockdown Monday morning following reports of a weapon on campus, but the threat was later downgraded and the school was placed in lockout status instead. St. Petersburg Police spokeswoman Sandra Bentil s...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Firefighters brace for second week of California wildfires

Firefighters brace for second week of California wildfires

LOS ANGELES — As Southern California enters its second week engulfed in flames, fire officials anticipate more growth and danger due to continued strong wind gusts, no rain and decades-old dry vegetation. A powerful flare-up on the western edge of th...
Published: 12/11/17
Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

When the fire chief asked if anyone in the room had fallen before, a few in the gray- and white-haired crowd raised their hands. One woman lost her footing as she was answering the phone. Another saw a palmetto bug, sprayed it with repellent, then s...
Published: 12/11/17
‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

Popular comedian Hannibal Buress was arrested Saturday night in Wynwood on a disorderly intoxication charge after an encounter with a police officer.Buress, 34, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail at 1:57 a.m. Sunday and posted bail just before 6 a.m.,...
Published: 12/10/17
Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Uber driver is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a drunken passenger.The Orlando Sentinel reports that 38-year-old Jorge Alberto Antunez Quintero was charged this week with sexual battery after an investigation ...
Published: 12/09/17