Amarillo Men Admit Aiming Laser Pointer At DPS Helicopter
AMARILLO, Texas — Two residents of Amarillo, Texas, Matthew George Dodgen and Christopher Anthony Cantrell, appeared in federal court this afternoon and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson to an indictment charging each with one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and aiding and abetting, announced U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
Each faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for January 21, 2015, before Judge Robinson. Dodgen remains on bond and Cantrell is in custody.
According to documents filed in the cases, on June 1, 2014, at approximately 12:56 a.m., a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter was hit with a green, ground-based laser while flying over Amarillo. The DPS pilot and co-pilot traced the laser’s origin to two subjects, later identified as Dodgen, 35, and Cantrell, 34, standing near a van parked at a residence near SW 12th and Washington Street.
The helicopter’s camera recorded Dodgen and Cantrell as they ran to their van and drove away. Officers with the Amarillo Police Department, who had been called to assist, quickly located and stopped the vehicle. Dodgen was the driver and Cantrell was the passenger. A laser was located on the floorboard between Cantrell’s feet.
Both men admitted pointing the laser at the helicopter. The laser’s light hit the pilot’s eyes directly for a split second, and he had to divert his eyes to avoid another direct hit from the laser. It affected his vision for approximately 20 seconds.
The FBI led the investigation with assistance from the Texas DPS and the Amarillo Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Frausto is prosecuting.