Thermal teen pleads not guilty to pointing laser at sheriff's helicopter

INDIO, Calif. -

An 18-year-old Thermal man suspected of pointing a hand-held laser at the cockpit of a sheriff's helicopter in Coachella pleaded not guilty to a felony charge today.

Christian Torres Padilla, who is charged with one count of willfully and maliciously discharging a laser at an aircraft, is free on a $25,000 bond. He is due back at the Larson Justice Center on April 24 for a felony settlement conference, according to court records.

On Feb. 14, a Riverside County Sheriff's Department helicopter was assisting the Indio Police Department on a call when someone aimed a hand-held laser at the cockpit about 7 p.m. as the craft flew over Harrison Street and Avenue 53 in Coachella, sheriff's Sgt. Randy Wedertz said.

The crew directed officers on the ground to Padilla, who allegedly had a hand-held laser in his possession, Wedertz said. Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind the pilot and distract the crew, he said.

Authorities didn't say why Padilla may have pointed the laser at the chopper.

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