A Long Island teen under investigation for pointing a laser at a Suffolk Police helicopter may never face criminal charges because of his age, according to a department spokesman.
The unidentified 14-year-old was caught with the laser Monday night, police said. He is accused of directing it into the chopper's cockpit as officers were hunting for a burglary suspect in the Brentwood area.
"It's a little startling," said Officer Tom Smith, who was piloting the helicopter. "That's the first time I was ever lasered."
Despite the distraction, Smith and his crew were able to locate the teen using a high-powered search light, and officers on the ground took him into custody.
He was not arrested and has yet to be formally charged with anything, said Inspector Stuart Cameron. But the laser was confiscated and the teen was released into the custody of his mother.
Both the FBI and FAA are investigating to determine if the teen is responsible for other laser strikes, including one earlier this month in the Deer Park area. In that incident, the laser hit a JetBlue flight bound for JFK.
"There are several thousand laser incidents each year," said Inspector Cameron. "But arrests are rare."
Criminal charges may never come in this case, Cameron added, because prosecutors must prove that the teen knew the dangers of what he was doing and disregarded those dangers.
"I don't know what his mental state was, whether this was intentional," said Smith.
Investigators do hope this case will raise awareness of the dangers posed by a laser strike on any type of aircraft.
Getting hit by a laser could be like getting hit in the face with pepper spray, according to the chief flight instructor at SUNY Farmingdale.
"If you get disoriented, you can lose sight of your instruments," said Ben Struck. "Then comes the question, how am I going to maintain control of the aircraft?
The distraction is most dangerous when a plane is taking off or landing, said Struck.
Authorites are concerned because lasers of all kinds are available in retail stores or online. The most powerful can cost as little as $250.
"I found one laser that claimed it could travel 85 miles and be seen from outer space," said Cameron. "That's how powerful these things are."
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