The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office arrested two brothers who aimed laser lights at the agency's helicopter while it patrolled near I-75 and Porter Road in Sarasota. Gary and Matthew Bennington are charged with Misuse of Laser Devices, a felony. This is not a harmless prank. Pilots are temporarily blinded in flight and a direct strike to the eye can cause permanent damage.
Sarasota Sheriff's deputies arrested two brothers who aimed laser lights at the agency's helicopter while it patrolled near I-75 and Porter Road in Sarasota Wednesday night.
The sheriff's office say deputies Dave Bouffard and Stephen Schull were in flight around 11:30 p.m., when they noticed a green light hitting the aircraft. It happened several more times with both red and green lasers lighting up the cockpit simultaneously. Pilots were able to pinpoint the location to 2493 Andansian Lane.
The suspects were seen on thermal imaging in the back and side yard of the property, and each time they fired a laser the subjects would retreat around the east side of the house and re-enter through the front door.
Patrol units arrived at the house and spoke with 25-year-old Gary Bennington and 22-year-old Matthew Bennington. They initially denied involvement, but admitted to the crime after learning it was captured on video.
Deputies found both lasers on the back porch of the home.
The Benningtons are charged with one count each of Misuse of Laser Devices, which is a felony. Both also face marijuana charges after deputies found nearly four grams of pot in a bag and a large marijuana plant in Matthew's bedroom.
As you see on the video, when the lasers hit the camera on the bottom of the aircraft it causes a giant flash. The effect on the pilots is similar but with far greater consequences. It has been compared to being in a dark room with your eyes adjusted to the darkness and a camera flash goes off. A laser shining in the cockpit makes the pilot temporarily "flashblind" and it takes time to regain their sight. A direct strike to the eye by a laser can cause permanent damage.
Even though a laser projects a small, millimeter-sized dot close up, at longer distances the beam can be many inches across. When the beam hits the windscreen of a cockpit or the bubble of a helicopter, imperfections in and on the glass spread the light out even more, so much that the pilot cannot avoid it.
Laser light in the pilot's eyes causes glare, or the inability to see past the light. This is not a harmless prank and can be a federal crime. Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration say there were 3,894 laser incidents in 2014 and that it is only because of the skill of the pilots that the crime hasn't caused an accident to date.
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SARASOTA -- Two brothers are facing charges after authorities say they pointed their laser lights at the Sarasota Sheriff's Office helicopter while it was on patrol. Gary Bennington, 25, and Matthew Bennington, 22, are each charged with one felony charge of misuse of laser devices, as well as marijuana-related charges.
At about 11:30 p.m., two deputies were in flight patrolling the area near Interstate 75 and Porter Road when they noticed a green light hitting the helicopter, according to a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office news release. It happened several times and the red and green laser lights lit up the cockpit simultaneously.
The pilots were able to pinpoint where the lights were coming from in the 2400 block of Andansian Lane. Using thermal imaging, deputies were able to see the suspects in the back and side yards of the home. Each time they aimed their lasers at the helicopter, they would escape back into the home through the front door.
Patrol deputies went to the home, and spoke with the Bennington brothers, who initially denied having pointed the lasers at the helicopter. After they learned that it was caught on video, they confessed, according to the sheriff's office. Both lasers were found in the home's porch.
In addition to the misuse of a laser charge, deputies found nearly four grams of marijuana in a bag and a large marijuana plant in Matthew Bennington's bedroom so they are also facing drug charges.
The sheriff's office released a video that shows how the lasers cause a giant flash when they hit the camera on the bottom of the helicopter.
"A laser shining in the cockpit makes the pilot temporarily 'flashblind' and it takes time to regain their sight," the sheriff's office statement said. "A direct strike to the eye by a laser can cause permanent damage."
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