New law prohibits pointing lasers at aircraft

When a police helicopter was flying overhead searching for a criminal suspect in Virginia Beach, Christopher Willingham did something he now acknowledges was “stupid”: He pointed a green laser at the helicopter – temporarily blinding the pilot and halting the search.

That stunt was not only stupid – it was illegal: Willingham was charged with a felony under a federal law that prohibits pointing a laser at an aircraft. In January, Willingham pleaded guilty to interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft and is scheduled for sentencing this week.

Willingham was prosecuted under federal law because there was no applicable state law. That will change on July 1, when a new Virginia law kicks in.

The Virginia General Assembly passed the legislation – House Bill 87 – during its 2012 regular session. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed it into law on March 30.

The bill, proposed by Delegate Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, states, “Any person who knowingly and intentionally projects a point of light from a laser, laser gun sight, or any other device that simulates a laser at an aircraft is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The bill will be added to an existing state law that forbids interfering with the operation of an aircraft. Under that law, if the interference endangers the life of the pilot or anybody else, it’s a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Willingham, 28, was convicted for flashing a laser pointer at a Virginia Beach police helicopter from his backyard near Naval Air Station Oceana around midnight on Nov. 1. The helicopter was assisting ground units in pursuing someone who had run from a traffic stop.

The pilot suffered temporary blindness from the laser strike, and so the co-pilot assumed control of the helicopter.

The pilots flew over Willingham’s residence. He ran back into the house, came back out and then continued to point the laser at the helicopter, according to Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. When police arrived, Willingham confessed to flashing the laser pointer at the aircraft.

He pleaded guilty in January. Afterward, at a news conference at Oceana, Willingham apologized and warned the public against pointing lasers at aircraft. “It’s very dangerous,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand how dangerous it is.”

Willingham’s case is not an isolated incident.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were about 3,600 laser strikes nationwide last year, including 98 in Virginia. Willingham was the first person to be convicted of a felony in a laser-pointing case in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Naval Air Station Oceana reported 13 laser incidents last year. Oceana expressed its concern about the strikes to Virginia Beach officials, who then asked Knight to propose the legislation to protect naval and police pilots.

Another impetus for the legislation was a loophole in an existing law found by the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. The law stated that shining a bright light at aircraft was illegal but did not specifically cover laser pointers.

Knight said he was also influenced by personal experience. He is a licensed helicopter pilot who has been in a similar situation.

“I have had a bright light shined into my eyes probably on accident. It was very dark; a boater shot it, and it temporarily blinded me,” Knight said. “Your eyes can’t refocus for 20 seconds or so, and that can be disastrous when you’re flying along at low levels and fast.”

Even though a laser’s beam is small in diameter close-up, it widens by several inches over greater distances. Also, imperfections in the glass of a plane’s windshield cause the beam to expand even more within the cockpit. The stronger the laser, the more amplified the effect.

Capt. Bob Geis of the Naval Air Station Oceana said laser strikes make landing particularly dangerous.

“It’s a busy phase of flight for the pilot, so distractions at this time are particularly bad,” Geis said.

He sees the new law as an opportunity to spread the word about a practice that “can be blinding either temporarily or permanently.”

Many people like Willingham may not know the full danger of laser strikes for pilots, Geis said. He said Willingham “was very apologetic; he didn’t have any idea how much damage he would cause with the laser he had. He was just goofing around and had no idea of the magnitude of what would happen.”

Willingham is scheduled to be sentenced Friday. He faces up to 20 years in prison. He is hoping for a lighter sentence because of his apology and his cooperation with authorities.
Bail Bonds Chesterfield VA

A place to excel

It's no surprise when a business deal begins to take shape during a golf outing.

Perhaps less common is the business deal that percolates during a youth football practice. But such was the case for Varina District Supervisor Tyrone Nelson.

During a visit to former Varina High School football star Michael Robinson's football camp, Nelson was discussing with Robinson his excitement for the new Varina Library, whose opening last June was at that time forthcoming.
> Read more.

Business in brief


Long & Foster Real Estate recently named Amy Enoch as the new manager of its Tuckahoe office. Enoch brings more than 15 years of real estate expertise to her new position, and she most recently led Long & Foster’s Village of Midlothian office. Enoch has served in both sales and management positions during her tenure at Long & Foster. Prior to her real estate career, Enoch worked in information technology and hospitality. She is a graduate of Radford University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics, English and history. Enoch has also received the designation of Graduate, Realtor Institute (GRI) from the National Association of Realtors, and this showcases her expertise in the fundamentals of real estate. > Read more.

Henrico recognized as a 2017 ‘Playful City USA’ community


A national nonprofit organization, KaBOOM!, has selected Henrico County as a 2017 Playful City USA community. The organization encourages communities to bring fun and balanced activities to children every day.

Henrico's selection is joined by the city of Richmond, town of Ashland, as well as the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, New Kent and Powhatan. All of the localities make up the first region completely recognized through Playful City USA. > Read more.

Gallagher Foundation serves more than 14,000 teens in first year


In its first year, The Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation reached 14,000 teens through its programs from Spring 2016 to date. The foundation is dedicated to spreading positivity and erasing stigmas by educating and creating awareness on depression, anxiety and stress among teens. CKG delivers programs at schools, community events and its West End office.

“Students are in need of the information in the workshops, whether they know it or not, and they aren’t getting it anywhere else,” said Beth Curry, Director of Health and Wellness at The Steward School. > Read more.

Illegal voting in Virginia? Yes. Massive? Doubtful.


For years, Republicans have loudly proclaimed that voter fraud is widespread in U.S. elections – and just as adamantly, Democrats have insisted that such allegations are nonsense.

Last fall, a pair of groups supported by conservatives released a report with the sensational title “Alien Invasion in Virginia: The discovery and coverup of noncitizen registration and voting.” It said illegal voting is a “massive problem”:

“In our small sample of just eight Virginia counties who responded to our public inspection requests, we found 1,046 aliens who registered to vote illegally,” the study said. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

May 2017
S M T W T F S
·
1
·
·
·

Calendar page

Classifieds

Place an Ad | More Classifieds

Calendar

The following Henrico County libraries will celebrate all things Star Wars with “May the Fourth Be with You” events at 6:30 p.m.: Gayton – bring your own shirt to be a tie (dye) fighter; Tuckahoe – prepare to be a Jedi Knight at Padawan Training; and Varina – watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens while doing crafts based on the Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger. For details, visit http://www.henricolibrary.org. Full text

Your weather just got better.

Henricopedia

Henrico's Top Teachers

The Plate