SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Deputies have arrested 41-year-old Charlie Chapman Jr. after he allegedly pointed lasers at pilots as they attempted to land planes at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Airport police said two airplanes were struck by the laser as they landed.
The first was a Cessna Skyhawk that was struck multiple times Wednesday evening. The student pilot who was practicing at the time told deputies that the laser hit him directly in the eyes and caused temporary blindness and that he still felt that his eyesight was blurry from the laser.
The second pilot was hit less than an hour later, but this time, it was a commercial United plane that can carry 150 passengers.
“The effect of that laser light, hitting inside the cockpit and temporarily disorienting them or causing temporary vision impairment, which impedes upon their ability to safely land that aircraft,” said SRQ Airport Police Chief Ted Kohuth of how dangerous this can be.
Thankfully, both planes landed safely, but this is a severe issue that officials said is only becoming more frequent.
“Over the past few years there has been an uptick in the reports of individuals intentionally pointing a laser at an aircraft," explained Chief Kohuth. "During calendar year 2020, now we’re only a few weeks into calendar year 2020, we’ve had five reports, including the two last night of an aircraft being intentionally struck by a laser.”
Deputies said that they found Chapman in the 8200 block of 25th Court East in Sarasota. This location is a cinderblock company within close proximity to the airport.
In helicopter video released by deputies, it appears Chapman also points the laser at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) helicopter when they were searching for him. Deputies said after he pointed the laser at them, he then began throwing rocks into the air towards the helicopter.
According to deputies on the ground, when they made contact with Chapman, he grabbed a hammer and made a striking motion towards them. Deputies said they tased Chapman twice to stop him.
Reports from law enforcement state a laser pointer was found in his right pants pocket. Chapman was taken to the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and after he was cleared, he was transported to the Manatee County Jail.
Deputies said they later learned that Chapman shot his laser pointer on a fixed wing plane four times and one time at the MCSO helicopter.
Chapman remains in the Manatee County Jail where deputies said he is being charged with aggravated assault on an officer, pointing laser at pilot with injury, pointing laser at pilot without injury, and resisting without violence.