Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Public safety

Lasers can impact pilots, bring serious charges for offenders

CLEARWATER — It was supposed to be a training exercise. About 2 miles from John's Pass, a Coast Guard helicopter hovered above a vessel, ready to lower a rescue hoist, when a green laser illuminated the cockpit.

"A sudden bright light," said Lt. James White, a support pilot inside the helicopter. "To me, it actually looked like a lightning strike in the distance."

The green light flashed inside the cockpit, distracting crew members from the training exercise. Within seconds, the light was gone.

That incident last fall is among thousands of laser strikes reported by the Coast Guard nationwide in recent years. The Federal Aviation Administration says that in 2013, nearly 2,500 laser incidents have been reported, 36 of them Coast Guard boat cases.

Aiming lasers at Coast Guard aircraft and vessels, officials warn, is dangerous, potentially disorienting crew members already out at sea on high-risk assignments. And if they're in the middle of a rescue mission, others' lives may also be in danger.

Lasers can cause flash blindness that can last several minutes and may even lead to retina damage. In Florida, pointing lasers at anyone operating a "motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft" is a third-degree felony.

"It is an extremely dangerous occurrence," White said. "Hitting an air crew or a boat crew with a laser can impact the safety of the crew."

This month, two Coast Guard boat crews in Clearwater and Jacksonville were affected by lasers.

On Saturday night, a laser flashed at a 25-foot boat from the Coast Guard's Sand Key station, patrolling one mile southwest of Clearwater. It produced a "blue-green laser burst" that lasted about four seconds, officials said.

The six-person crew returned to the station for eye exams, but all were cleared.

On Aug. 7, a 45-foot boat searching for flares about three miles from Jacksonville Beach was struck by a green laser.

"They thought it might have been someone trying to get their attention," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen. "They realized it was somebody next to the Jacksonville Beach Pier pointing a laser at them."

In both cases, no arrests were made.

After being flooded with the green light last fall, White, the Coast Guard pilot, underwent two eye exams, one at the station's medical clinic and another by a local doctor. He was cleared by both.

During the laser incident, White was wearing night-vision goggles, which deflected some of the effect.

"It was just an unsettling event," he said.

Comments
St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

More than 2,000 Duke Energy customers are without power after a cluster of storms rolled through earlier this afternoon, according to Duke Energy.The area without power stretches along 62nd Avenue N from 12th Street N to 30th Way N, according to the ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Updated: 4 hours ago
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

NEW PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man was arrested Monday and faces sexual battery charges after deputies said he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells, 33, would take the victim into his bedroom and undress her, kiss her face and ne...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Published: 06/19/18
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Published: 06/18/18
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Published: 06/18/18