Police pilot hit with laser

October 3, 2008 8:42:31 PM PDT
Philadelphia police say they arrested a man after he struck a police department helicopter with a green laser while it was in the air. The laser beam struck the chief pilot Tony Ginaldi in the eye as he and his partner flew over Juniata Park.

He told Action News it was terrifying when he felt the sudden, intense pain in his eye, when someone aimed a green laser in to the cockpit.

It was even more terrifying when he realized he couldn't control the aircraft.

"If it wasn't for the fact that we had two pilots aboard our aircraft last night, this could have been a catastrophic event," said Lt. Tony Ginaldi.

"The more terrifying part is what if Chris Clemens and I were both exposed to this?" Lt. Ginaldi said, referring to his partner.

"Neither of us may have been able to operate the aircraft safely, and they could have brought the aircraft down."

That laster hit Lt. Ginaldi in the right eye.

He directed his partner to fly, and the pair concentrated the the suspect, 19 year old Lenny Tavarez of the 4000 block of Ormond Street.

Police say Tavarez once again targeted the chopper with the laser.

The pilots illuminated the area with spotlights and called for a ground unit.

"He tried to flee, but there were too many ground officers there," Lt. Ginaldi said. "As he tried to flee he tried to hide the laser on his body, and the officers thought he had a gun at first."

Tavarez didn't have a gun, but rather an industrial-sized laser, capable of inflicting permanent damage or even blindness.

Tavarez is facing a number of charges including "risking a catastrophe," which carries a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

Both pilots landed safely.

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