At approximately 7:30 pm, Sunday, November 21, 2010, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office air unit responded to the area of Clubhouse Road in the Island Walk subdivision in reference to a distraught armed subject threatening suicide. The subject reportedly attempted to cut his wrists with a knife before family were able to wrestle the knife from him. The distraught subject, possibly suicidal, fled on foot in an unknown direction. The PCSO Aviation unit was among the numerous units to assist in the search.
While deputies were establishing a perimeter, the PCSO helicopter was “struck” with a green laser light from the ground.
The laser was being directed into the cockpit of the helicopter creating disorientation to the pilot and flight observer. The laser illuminated the cockpit with such intensity that the pilot and flight observer’s night vision equipment became inoperable which restricted their vision and thus prevented safe operation of the aircraft.
The PCSO Pilot had to break away from the search and leave the area in order to readjust cockpit equipment. This resulted in additional units having to be relocated to assist in the search for the suicidal subject.
After correcting the impairments created by the laser, the PCSO Pilot was able to pinpoint the location of the laser’s origin. Deputies responded to 2870 Chatsworth Lane, Lakeland, where they found 58-year-old Mark Clay Hazlitt, DOB 04/06/1952. Deputies questioned Hazlitt about the laser. Hazlitt admitted to directing the laser light toward the helicopter saying he was “tired of hearing it.”
Hazlitt was placed under arrest and charged with Misuse of Laser Lighting Device, a third degree felony.
“Mr. Hazlitt deliberately interfered with a search in which deputies were trying to locate a man who said he was going to take his life,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “The laser used was strong enough to disrupt night vision devices thus creating a very real danger to our air unit crew. He deliberately placed the lives of our pilot and flight observer in jeopardy, as well as those on the ground had the helicopter crashed. Hazlitt’s behavior was reckless and his actions felonious. We will not tolerate anyone placing the lives of our deputies or residents in danger.”
The suicidal subject fled the perimeter while deputies were relocating due to the air unit’s inability to assist. The suicidal subject was located sometime later and taken into protective custody.