It was a night of coincidental light beams that got two men jailed.
“Yeah, we’re getting hit by a laser multiple times,” the pilot of Air One, Volusia County’s emergency helicopter, is heard saying in an on-board video as it flew over Palm Coast’s C-Section late Wednesday night. “We aren’t going to be able to help you much until this is taken care of.”
Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies had called Air One to help them find Jeff Thomas, a 36-year-old man who’d allegedly bailed out of his car and run off into the woods. A deputy had initiated a traffic stop on Thomas after Thomas allegedly began to flash his car’s high beams as he drove north on Old Kings Road North. A deputy was driving south and was at the receiving ends of the beams. Thomas left his high beam on after a series of flickers.
After he was pulled over deputies decided to search the car once they smelled a strong odor of pot, but just then Thomas, his arrest report states, pulled out and allegedly fled. A search began, and deputies called in Air One, which has night-vision capabilities on board.
But as Air One was circling above the C Section, the laser flashing began. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime, though the Federal Aviation Administration reported 5,663 such incidents in 2018, down from 6,754 in 2017 and over 7,000 the year before. The FAA lists one such incident in Bunnell last Dec. 21, involving a place at an altitude of 6,000 feet. It reported two such incidents on successive days, on Oct. 11 and 12 last year, in unincorporated Flagler County, from aircraft flying at 3,000 and 2,500 feet.
“How much harm can a little laser pointer do?” an FAA video narrates. “Actually, a lot. Did you know that pointing a laser at an aircraft can distract or temporarily blind the pilot, potentially putting the lives of many innocent passengers at risk? That’s why it’s a federal crime with serious consequences, like fines of up to $250,000 or up to five years in jail.” The offense applies even if the laser is pointed at the flight path of the aircraft, not just at the aircraft itself. “It’s not a harmless joke.”In Florida, pointing a laser at an aircraft is a third-degree felony (a second-degree felony if the incident causes harm). The law also extends to pointing a laser at a person operating a vehicle or a boat or at a law enforcement officer engaged in performance of duties.
“9 Chelsea Court is hitting us with a laser multiple times, is pulling us off of this call,” the Air One pilot continued, onboard thermal imaging video showing the whitish silhouette of an individual within a screened-in back porch. “We got eyes on somebody on the back porch by the pool who’s been hitting us with a green laser.” A different angle moments later shows the individual flashing the laser at the helicopter a couple of times. “Flagler, we’re getting hit by that laser again. Are we [having] a unit in route to that?” Then the pilot says: “They’re hitting us with it right now.”
Deputies had by then arrived at the house, which was dark. Gregory Marr, 60, came out to meet deputies, asking if they were looking for anyone.
Marr made news before. In May 2016, he was arrested for firing his gun in his backyard after he’d become angry that his wife, who worked in a health care facility in Putnam, had been in lockdown. (His wife’s facility had gone into lockdown because an individual had shot herself in the facility’s parking lot.) Marr had been drinking. He was charged with a felony. The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor charge of improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon. He was found guilty.
Wednesday night, when he walked out to meet the cops, a deputy told him they were looking for someone in the area, but that they were also investigating the laser-flashing from Marr’s house. Marr told a deputy he did not own a laser pointer, though the Air One pilot had identified the man speaking to deputies as the same individual who’d pointed the laser. Marr was placed under arrest. He continued to deny pointing the laser at the helicopter, according to his arrest report, and saying he didn’t own such a device.
His wife, speaking to another deputy, said otherwise. She said they’d been watching television that night but had gone to bed at 10:45 p.m., after which Marr got up repeatedly to go to the kitchen, she thought to get more wine, though she didn’t know what he was doing precisely. She said they do own two laser lights they use to play with their dogs. One had exhausted its batteries, she said, the other was still in its packaging.
After he was placed in a patrol vehicle, Marr said, “I did it,” according to the arrest report. He told a deputy “he observed the helicopter flying above and shined the laser at the helicopter three different occasions: twice from the pool deck and once from the side of the residence,” according to his arrest report. He told them he’d left the laser pointed by a grill on the pool deck. Deputies found it there. It shined green when a deputy turned it on, pointing in a safe direction.
Marr was charged with a second degree felony, his bond set at $1,500 and his conditional release including a prohibition on alcohol, with the possibility of a urinalysis.
Meanwhile Air One returned to the original call, leading deputies on that call to Thomas, who was also arrested. According to his arrest report, Thomas, using an expletive, said he didn’t care what the judge did “because I wanted to make you work.” His driver’s license had been suspended. He was charged with fleeing and eluding, a felony, failure to dim head lamps, and driving on a suspended license. His bond was set at $4,500. Thomas is a Daytona Beach resident.
Marr in 2016 had faced another set of felony charges. Adjudication was withheld on felony charges of battery and false imprisonment. The victim was his wife. He was charged with domestic assault and battery in 2017, in an incident that again involved his wife. He was found guilty of the battery charge.
“Not only did his dangerous and stupid actions divert our search for the fleeing suspect but shining a laser at a helicopter could have caused the helicopter to crash by blinding the pilot,” Sheriff Rick Staly was quoted as saying in a release. “In Florida, shining a laser beam at a pilot in flight is a felony offense. We appreciate the assistance of the Volusia Sheriff’s Office to apprehend and arrest both individuals and I’m very thankful his actions did not result in a disastrous crash that could have killed the pilots and people on the