PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A Williamsport, Pa. man has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for shining a high-powered laser at a Philadelphia Police helicopter.

The sentencing judge called 53-year-old James Gautieri “a liar” for claiming that he was merely trying to follow the stars with his laser on the night of April 30, 2008.

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Assistant US attorney Salvatore Astolfi says Gautieri homed in on a police helicopter near Northeast Philadelphia Airport and flashed the cockpit many times, hitting Lt. Anthony Ginaldi (above) right in the eyes (see previous stories).

“That laser strike to the officer’s eyes caused him to lose control of the helicopter over a residential neighborhood,” says Astolfi.

The chopper, just 300 feet above the ground, went into a brief nosedive before Ginaldi’s co-pilot, Officer Christopher Clemens, regained control of the aircraft, thereby averting a catastrophe.

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“Numerous people were in their home sleeping,” adds Astolfi.  “One person testified that he and his wife were watching television in their home when this incident occurred and their two young children were sleeping. There was a potential that, had the helicopter crashed, it could have landed right on top of that gentleman’s home, killing him and his entire family.”

Lt. Ginaldi says he still is dealing with psychological aftereffects of the incident.

Reported by Paul Kurtz, KYW Newsradio 1060

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