NewsLocal NewsIn-Depth


3 men arrested as lasers strike OSHP helicopter 3 times in less than an hour

OSHP laser strike 1.jpg
Posted at 4:19 PM, Apr 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-20 18:47:55-04

ELYRIA, Ohio — Three men face second-degree felony charges in connection with multiple reported laser strikes on an Ohio State Highway Patrol helicopter that was providing aerial support for a saturation detail last Friday.

According to federal data, the number of laser strikes reported to the FAA has increased precipitously over the past two years, including a more than 40% increase in 2021.

Although some may view lasers as innocuous and harmless, those in the aviation industry have repeatedly stressed the dangers that even the smallest laser pointers create. In 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act was signed into law, making it a federal offense to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. By that time, numerous states had laws of their own, including Ohio, which made interfering with the operation of an aircraft with a laser a second-degree felony.

OSHP laser strike 2.jpg
A still frame of aerial video obtained by News 5 depicting one of three laser strikes reported April 14.

On Friday, April 14, OSHP’s aviation unit was providing aerial support for troopers and Elyria police who were conducting saturation patrols to crack down on impaired drivers and narcotics. The special law enforcement detail targeted Elyria because of the high number of suspected overdoses and OVIs.

Around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Sgt. Christopher Hasty, the pilot and supervisor for OSHP’s helicopter, reported a large beam of green light being flashed in his direction.

“Air to ground,” Sgt. Hasty said as he radioed dispatch. “I need you to run to the house for us. We have a dude [shooting a laser at us]. We have him on camera.”

Aerial video obtained by News 5 through a public records request shows the green laser beam piercing the night sky, resembling a lighthouse or a spotlight. Sgt. Hasty then relays the location of where the laser is coming from. Five minutes later, troopers and officers had a suspect in custody.

It wouldn’t be the first laser strike that evening.

Less than 20 minutes later, Sgt. Hasty is distracted by what he described as a high-intensity LED flashlight.

“Air to ground, now we have an individual hitting us with a flashlight,” Sgt. Hasty radioed to dispatch. “There’s going to be two individuals outside some apartments. And they’re continuing to hit us with their flashlight. Be advised it’s a high-intensity searchlight beam. It’s in the same category as a laser.”

OSHP laser strike 1.jpg
A still frame of aerial video obtained by News 5 depicting one of three laser strikes reported April 14.

Within minutes, the aerial video shows two law enforcement officers taking a man into custody. Then, roughly 30 minutes later, OSHP’s aviation unit is again struck by a reportedly similar laser that had struck the helicopter the prior night.

“He did it to us last night from the same general location one time, and then he did it to us twice tonight,” Sgt. Hasty radioed to dispatch.

The laser and flashlight strikes resulted in the arrests of three men: Ray Woods, 61, of Wakeman; Jason McCloskey, 54, of Elyria, and Louis Bernard, 42, of Elyria. All three men were initially lodged in the Lorain County Jail on second-degree felony charges.

“It wouldn’t make sense to go out and drop a boulder from atop an overpass… and try to obstruct traffic or cause a crash,” Sgt. Hasty said. “Pointing a laser at an aircraft is doing nothing more than trying to cause a crash or injury to a person.”

OSHP laser strike 3.jpg
A still frame of aerial video obtained by News 5 depicting the arrest of one of three men charged in connection with laser strikes reported April 14.

Sgt. Hasty received his pilot certifications nearly 30 years ago. A Master Sergeant in the Ohio Air National Guard, Hasty joined the highway patrol in 2000 and worked on the road for more than eight years before joining the aviation unit. After piloting OSHP’s fixed-wing aircraft for several years, Hasty has piloted and supervised the agency’s helicopter since 2013.

Although he considers it to be the best job in the world, Hasty said laser strikes continue to cause unnecessary hazards and routinely put people in danger, both in the air and on the ground.

“In a critical stage of flight— which as a helicopter pilot every stage of flight is a critical stage of flight— it is a distraction,” Hasty said. “It is an impedance to your vision. Imagine being or walking into a dark room or at your campsite and someone hitting you in the face with a high-intensity flashlight. You’re immediately not able to see, and you’re blinded from your ability to operate the aircraft.”

Hasty said he and other pilots within the aviation unit have special equipment to minimize the impact of a laser strike. However, even with such equipment, he and other pilots are still susceptible to glancing laser strikes or those that come from their peripheral vision.

OSHP laser strike 4.jpg

Regulated by the FDA because of their applications within the medical field, lasers are often misunderstood or underestimated. Although the laser may just appear the size of a pen when being used for an office presentation, the width of the beam grows exponentially over long distances.

“A thousand yards or two thousand yards away, the beam of light is actually about the size of [a large water bottle],” Hasty said as he held up his Yeti thermos. “Now, if you’re looking at an airliner that is flying at 5,000, 10,000 feet, that laser will actually expand to the size of what you would think of a 50-gallon bucket. Now, this teeny little laser that you think is just pointing this little dot at the aircraft, what’s the big deal? You actually have something that’s the beam width of a searchlight that is enveloping the entire cockpit and flight deck of airliners and our helicopters.”

In addition to being a distraction, the intensity of certain lasers can have long-lasting effects on a pilot’s vision. At certain intensities, the laser beam can burn the human eye, specifically the cornea and retina. Long after the flash blindness subsides, pilots can experience early-onset cataracts and glaucoma.

“The initial attack may not be anything immediate,” Hasty said. “But, down the road, you will have a deteriorated ability to see.”

OSHP laser strike 5.jpg

What happened in Elyria on April 14 was not a one-off. Instead, it is the continuation of a pattern.

According to federal data, the number of laser strikes reported to the FAA has grown significantly over the past two years. From 2016 through 2020, there have been on average 6,500 laser strikes reported to the FAA. A total of 6,852 strikes were reported in 2020.

However, in 2021, there was a more than 40% increase in the number of reported laser strikes, topping out at 9,723. The following year, 2022, there were 9,457 laser strikes.

Hasty credits the surge in laser strikes to two factors.

“I think some of it was probably COVID and quarantine-related. People were bored and at home and they ordered these things online. It’s just something to do to entertain yourself, which was part of what was happening with our Elyria detail,” Sgt. Hasty said. “There was a person posting to Facebook saying, ‘Hey, this helicopter is too loud so everybody go outside with your laser and start pointing it at the aircraft.’”

The other factor, Hasty said, is greater awareness.

“Certain crimes ebb and flow over time, but the spike is noted, and I think a lot more of it is more and more of it is being reported,” Hasty said. “We have definitely seen a trend upward, unfortunately, in the number of laser strikes that we have had.”

The most troubling aspect of the recent spike in laser strikes is the fact that most incidents involve medical helicopters — not law enforcement units or commercial airliners, Hasty said.

“This is a group of people that are doing nothing more than trying to get you or a family member to the hospital for critical care, surgery, or aid,” Hasty said. “These are the people that are taking the brunt of the laser strikes — it’s not law enforcement. This is a felony act; it’s not a minor misdemeanor. This is a very serious crime.”