John Kelly's Washington: Making a Point (Allegedly) About Chopper Noise

A survey on helicopter-related concerns is on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Web site.
A survey on helicopter-related concerns is on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Web site. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm not sure his lawyer would want me saying this, but Gary Wort is my hero. Why? For expressing his outrage at the noisy traffic helicopters that hover over our houses while we're trying to sleep.

I should say for allegedly expressing his outrage, since the manner in which Wort (allegedly) made his displeasure known last month got the Silver Spring man arrested.

According to a news release from the Montgomery County Police, early on the morning of Feb. 25, Wort flashed a laser pointer at a traffic helicopter whose blades were beating the air over his neighborhood. Wrote the police: Wort "walked to the rear of his house and shined the laser pointer beam at the pilot of the helicopter, obstructing his view for a period of time. The helicopter pilot notified the news station whose staff called police."

When police showed up, Wort allegedly shined the laser pointer at them. He was hauled off to jail and charged with one count of disorderly conduct, three counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of prohibited use of a laser pointer.

All right, Gary! Fight Big Brother and his annoyingly loud, all-seeing eye!

Wort's attorney, David Martella, told me his client was surprised by the turn of events: "This gentleman is a mild fifty-something guy that takes care of his 81-year-old mother, and he was playing with his cat with this laser pointer designed to be a pet toy."

A laser pointer for cats? Yes, apparently such things exist, providing hours of entertainment for easily distracted felines.

Martella said Wort was annoyed by the helicopter over his house, went outside to look at it, then started "waving the laser pointer to kind of wave the helicopter off. . . . A few minutes later, the police are knocking at his door."

As for aiming the device at a police officer, Martella said Wort was back to playing with his cat when he saw a person shining a flashlight into his house. "He apparently lifted the laser pointer up in way that the officer believed was pointing at him, but he wasn't intending to shine it in the faces of the police officers at all."

Wort, Martella said, "has suffered great embarrassment and is very distraught that people in the Channel 7 helicopter may have been concerned. He was surprised they could even see the dot that clearly that far up."

A trial is scheduled for this month. The laser pointer law was intended to deal with the issue of law enforcement officers being painted by a laser pointer and not knowing whether it's a cat toy or a gunsight.

According to the FAA, helicopters may hover at low altitudes as long as they do it "safely." Noise doesn't seem to enter into the equation. There isn't a good way for people to complain about traffic helicopters, said Rob Krupicka (D), an Alexandria City Council member who serves on the aviation committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "It's a big quality-of-life issue for folks who are on the flight paths," he said. (One place to start if you're plagued by copters is COG's Web site, Fill out the helicopter survey in the airport noise abatement section of the "Environment" tab.)

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