No Arrest Yet in Fairfax Police ‘Spotlighting' Incident, Suspect Identified

Fairfax County Police said they've identified the man who trained his spotlight on a police chopper last week.

So-called "spotlighting" can be a jarring, dangerous moment for pilots.

On Feb. 24 around 8 p.m., Fairfax One was headed back to base, flying near the Fairfax County Parkway after a mission in Reston when a bright light was suddenly trained into the chopper.

Mike Mountjoy was piloting the aircraft. He said the bright light didn't incapacitate him, but added the lights can interfere with the ability to see the instruments or other aircraft.

Another Fairfax One pilot, Chris Lovejoy, wasn't on board that night, but he knows what it's like. He was the victim of a laser pointer when he used to fly for Maryland State Police.

"You're aviating, flying the aircraft and all of a sudden you get lit up. It's a dazzling effect. You're wondering what the heck is going on," explained Lovejoy.

Fairfax County Police haven't made an arrest in last week's incident, but they think they know who's behind the spotlighting. Lovejoy said while the intent might not be malicious, the behavior was deliberate.

"It wasn't an accidental spotlighting," Lovejoy said. "This was somebody who purposely placed the beam on the aircraft and tracked the aircraft for several minutes. We were able to identify who he was. We have a night camera on the aircraft and we're able to see the individual on camera and see who it was."

There were about 4,000 laser pointer attacks on aircraft nationally last year; spotlighting is not as common.

It's behavior that, in a worst case scenario, could bring down a chopper, and is a Class I misdemeanor crime in the Commonwealth. 

"Spotlighting" could constitute a crime know as "interference with operation of an aircraft." It carries a possible penalty of 12 months in jail or a $2,500 fine. In Maryland, "pointing a laser at an aircraft" can bring three years and the same fine.

Lovejoy would like to see the crime treated as a felony.

"If it can can be proven to be intentional l think it really ought to be a felony because the danger to the public by doing something like that... if an aircraft crashes in a neighborhood it is incredibly dangerous," said Lovejoy.

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