Man charged with aiming laser at Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer helicopter

Criminal offense established in recent legislation

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Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Tyler Pennywitt

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville man has been accused of aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter.

John Pennywitt, 41, faces 10 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine if he is convicted on all counts.

The indictment that charged Pennywitt was unsealed Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Pennywitt is accused of knowingly shining a laser into the cockpit of a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office patrol helicopter during nighttime hours on June 3 and 4.

No one was injured during the alleged incidents, authorities said.

The case was investigated by the United States Department of Transportation and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jay Taylor.

On Feb. 14, President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which modernizes the nation's aviation system. The Act established a new criminal offense for aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft.

The statute was enacted in response to a growing number of incidents of pilots being distracted or even temporarily blinded by laser beams, the Department of Justice said.

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