Friday, January 29, 2016

Jurors: Defendants not guilty in Florence County, South Carolina, helicopter trial

Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen smile thanks to their attorney Patrick McLaughlin. The pair was found not guilty of charges they flew a helicopter that the Florence County Sheriff's Office claimed was controlled by them, at the time, without permission.

FLORENCE, S.C. -- Florence County jurors deliberated for less than 45 minutes before they found two Florence County pilots not guilty of charges they unlawfully entered and flew a helicopter that the Florence County Sheriff's Office claimed it controlled at the time.

Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen were indicted on felony charges in April 2015 after they took a helicopter up for a maintenance flight without permission from the owner of the aircraft. The Florence County Sheriff's Office argued they controlled the helicopter when the unauthorized flight occurred on the evening of April 6, 2015. The pilots were also accused of removing wheels from the aircraft.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Patrick McLaughlin argued that the state rushed into branding Fridl and Hemmingsen as criminals and will not admit they made a mistake.

"The Florence County Sheriff's Office did not own the helicopter on April 6," McLaughlin said. "It wasn't their helicopter."

McLaughlin went on to defend the need for preventative maintenance flights and that Fridl and Hemmingsen were well within their rights to fly and maintain the aircraft.

"What happened if they (sheriff's office) got the helicopter and it wouldn't start?" McLaughlin said.

Solicitor Rick Hoefer took the floor and said he argued the sheriff's office did own the helicopter well before the April 6 flight. Hoefer also argued that the pilots were not authorized to fly the aircraft according to Lake City Administrator Shawn Bell.

"The transfer began in February when Lake City knew they could not fund the aircraft," Hoefer said. "Because they had no insurance there was a stand-down order."

Hoefer addressed that former Lake City Police Chief Jodi Cooper may have had the ultimate authority over the aircraft, but he was unaware of the flight taking place before the transfer on April 7.

"Chief Cooper said he didn't know anything about a flight on April 6," Hoefer said. "Mr. Fridl thought he owned it (the helicopter) ... it was his baby."

In closing, both attorneys argued the opposing side was not willing to admit they had made a mistake.

Original article can be found here:

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