By Peter H. Milliken
A 34-year-old man charged with knowingly aiming a laser-pointer beam at a medical helicopter during a Boardman landing has pleaded guilty as charged.
Travis D. Krzysztofiak, of Boardman, entered his plea Monday in Cleveland before U.S. District Court Judge Christopher A. Boyko, who will sentence him at 2 p.m. May 6.
A federal grand jury indicted Krzysztofiak last July on a felony charge of pointing the laser at a helicopter as it approached Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, 6505 Market St., about 9:30 p.m. June 15, 2013.
The pilot told Boardman police someone on or near Sciota Avenue, which is two blocks north of the hospital grounds, deliberately shone a silver laser light into the aircraft’s cockpit.
Such lasers are dangerous because they disrupt pilots’ vision, which is what happened in this case, said David M. Toepfer, the Youngstown-based assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.
The laser caused the pilot to change the helicopter’s approach path, but the craft eventually landed at the hospital that night, Toepfer added.
The case was investigated by the FBI and Boardman police.
“We appreciate the work of the law-enforcement community and courts on this case,” said Lisa Aurilio, the hospital’s chief nursing officer and vice president of patient services. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our patients, as well as the dedicated men and women of our transport team, who put their lives on the line for them each and every day.”
The available sentencing range for this federal crime is from probation to five years in prison, with a fine up to $250,000.
Krzysztofiak could not be reached to comment on why he pointed the laser at the helicopter and whether he was aware of the federal law against such conduct.
The law Krzysztofiak violated took effect in February 2012.
The enactment of that law followed a skyrocketing number of reported laser pointings at aircraft.
The nationwide number of such incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration nearly doubled from 1,527 in 2009 to 2,826 in 2010 and soared to a record 3,591 in 2011.
When the law was newly enacted, David J. Hickton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, vowed to “rigorously investigate and prosecute” violators in his jurisdiction.
“Many high-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots, who are trying to fly safely to their destinations, and oftentimes with hundreds of passengers aboard,” Hickton said.
“Irresponsible or malicious use of these devices can threaten the lives of flight crews, passengers and even those on the ground,” he added.
Krzysztofiak’s prior criminal record includes pleading no contest and being found guilty of misuse of a credit card in March 2002 in Mahoning County Area Court in Boardman, where he was given a 180-day jail term, half of it suspended, placed on a year’s probation and fined $100 and court costs.
In June 2006, Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court put him on two years’ probation and fined him $5,000, suspending all but $500 of it, after he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession.
In February 2007, Judge Evans sent him to prison for 14 months for violating his probation.
In December 2010, Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of common pleas court sentenced him to two years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to permitting drug abuse at his Sciota Avenue residence.
Judge Sweeney gave him an early termination of his probation in February 2012.